February 3, 2014

An Aging Workforce Creates New Workplace Injury Issues

An article in the October 2013 issue of Manufacturing.net argues that the aging of the work force may have far-reaching implications on the number and type of work-related injuries and that most companies are unprepared for this demographic change. According to the article, one-third of the U.S. labor force will be 55 or older by 2015.

As the article points out, many older workers will be working in environments where they will be exposed to hazards and engage in injury-triggering activities, such lifting and carrying objects. Work-related injuries are a potentially serious cost issue for employers, especially manufacturers. Older workers are more prone to musculoskeletal injuries such as sprains, strains, and lower back pain. Arthritis, high blood pressure, obesity, and other physical problems that are more common among elderly individuals can exacerbate these injuries.

The article argues that if employers do not take steps to ensure the continued productivity of older workers, employers may experience high rates of debilitating and expensive occupational injuries that could harm workflow, increase insurance costs, and reduce profits. To maximize the contributions of these workers and protect their health, employers need to recognize the physical limitations of the aging workers and proactively employ tactics and new strategies proven to reduce workplace injuries.

While many employers are aware of the coming demographic transition in the workplace, fewer than one in seven has adopted strategies to address it. Among the measures that the article calls for are further mechanization to reduce musculoskeletal stress, the use of product designs that offer a variety of ergonomic benefits, and operational simplifications.