As the large “baby boomer” generation — those born between 1946 and 1964 — ages so too does the nation’s workforce, while the labor pool shrinks. And while workplace injury rates for older workers are the lowest of any age group, their fatality rate is the highest.

To accommodate the aging workforce and to try and reduce fatality rates, businesses should design a safe workplace for this aging, yet valuable, group of workers, says the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), or be faced with a negative economic impact.

“Businesses must act now to accommodate and provide a safer work environment for the aging worker, a valuable and experienced group, or their bottom line will be impacted negatively,” ASSE President Jack H. Dobson, Jr., CSP, said Wednesday. “There are easy and economical ways to do this that in the long run will save time, increase output and contribute positively to the business.”

The U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL) workplace statistics for 2004 show that those 64 and older had the lowest number of workplace injuries, but the fatality rate for those 55 and older rose by 10 percent. In 2003, workers 65 and older continued to record the highest fatality rate of any other age group, more than three times the rate of fatalities for those aged 25-34, according to the DOL. Most of these fatalities were transportation-related, from falls, from being struck by an object and from homicides.

As baby boomers begin to retire over the next few years, the DOL notes the workforce will shrink as those born from 1965 to 1985, a time with a declining birthrate, enter the workforce.

The following are suggestions from ASSE are aimed at increasing workplace safety for an aging workforce:

  • Improve illumination, add color contrast
  • Eliminate heavy lifts, elevated work from ladders and long reaches
  • Design work floors and platforms with smooth and solid decking while still allowing some cushioning
  • Reduce static standing time
  • Remove clutter from control panels and computer screens and use large video displays
  • Reduce noise levels
  • Install chain actuators for valve hand wheels, damper levers or other similar control devices to help reduce falls
  • Install skid-resistant material for flooring and stair treads
  • Install shallow-angle stairways in place of ladders when space permits
  • Utilize hands-free volume-adjustable telephone equipment
  • Increase task rotation to reduce the strain of repetitive motion
  • Lengthen time requirements between steps in a task
  • Consider necessary reaction time when assigning older workers to tasks
  • Provide opportunities for practice and time to develop task familiarity