older workerWith recent statistics showing workers in the 65 and older age group having the highest number of on-the-job deaths in the U.S. in 2010, and, with older workers (defined as those aged 55+ years) being the nation’s fastest growing segment of the working population, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) urges employers to design workplaces with positive policies and programs to optimize the safety and health of older workers.

ASSE President Richard A. Pollock, CSP, called the statistics “alarming.”

“We are also concerned that despite the down economy, on-the-job deaths are not decreasing, but instead have hit a plateau. We need to be proactive and move past the plateau of complacency. We urge employers and employees to act now,” said Pollock.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show fatal work injury rates for workers 55 years and older were higher than the overall U.S. rate in 2010, and the rate for workers 65 years of age and older was more than three times the rate for all workers. The BLS projects that by 2020 one fourth of the workforce will be over age 55.

In her article Optimizing and Designing for an Aging Population in the Workplace, ASSE member Winnie Ip, CPE, director of consulting at Humantech, Inc., of Ann Arbor, MI, suggests taking a proactive approach to addressing some of the particular challenges faced by older workers:

  • Conduct regular health checks for shift workers over 40, including annual eye exams that ensure correct vision prescription.
  • Increase illumination in workstations by 20 percent
  • Use task lighting to make low-contrast targets (defects) more visible
  • Avoid using small print in instructions, orders or on equipment
  • For computers, use LCD displays for reduced glare, use a 17 inch monitor or larger, if possible, increase monitor brightness and add color contrast, and place document holders and monitors at the same distance from the eyes.

NIOSH suggests employers utilize teams and teamwork strategies for aging-associated problem solving; require training for supervisors on skills related to managing an aging workforce; invest in training and building worker skills and competencies at all age levels; and, provide ergo-friendly work environments.

More tips can be found at bitly.com/Pv1wSh. Visit  www.asse.org/cops/docs/Winnie%20Ip%20Article_Ergonomics.pdf to read the entire Designing for an Aging Population article.