More than 20 percent of North American workers are at least 55 years old and those numbers are expected to increase, as more people decide they would rather keep working than retire.
While many people view aging as simply a state of mind, the reality is that older workers are prone to health conditions which can negatively affect their strength and balance and potentially put them at greater risk for injury.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), arthritis and high blood pressure are the two most common health conditions affecting workers age 55 and older, with arthritis affecting 47 percent of older workers and hypertension affecting 44 percent.
Medical conditions that can negatively affect a worker’s balance as he or she ages include inner ear disorders causing dizziness or light-headedness; dizziness caused by reduced cardiac output; decreased vision; loss of muscle tone and decreased strength in the feet, calves and legs; and the requirement for taking certain prescription medications that may cause dizziness.
Perhaps because of their years of work experience, coupled with the knowledge that they have age-related physical limitations, older workers are less likely than younger workers to experience workplace injuries. However, when an injury does occur, the older worker generally takes longer to heal. And older workers are less likely to survive serious injuries, according to the CDC.
Employers who are proactive and take an employee-centered approach to the physical nature and organization of work will get the best performance out of workers of all ages.
“Workplace design, the flexibility of the work schedule and certain ergonomic interventions increasingly focus on the needs of older employees,” says the CDC. “Many workplace accommodations are easy to make and are inexpensive. Modern orthotics, appropriate flooring and seating, optimal lighting, and new information technology hardware and software can smooth the way to continued work for older individuals.”
Here are 10 CDC tips you can use to make your workplace more age-friendly:
Prioritize workplace flexibility: Give workers more say in their schedules, work conditions, work organization, work location and work tasks.
Match work tasks to workers’ abilities: Encourage self-paced work, self-directed rest breaks and less repetitive tasks. One cautionary point is that if you are accommodating an older worker by reducing his or her heavy lifting tasks, for example, make sure that you are not overloading younger workers with too many heavy lifting demands.
Discourage prolonged sedentary work: Consider stand/sit workstations and walking workstations for workers who traditionally sit all day. Provide onsite physical fitness activity opportunities or connections to low-cost community options.
Manage hazards: Try to minimize hazards such as noise, slip/trip hazards and physical hazards, which are especially challenging for your older workers.
Provide and design ergo-friendly work environments: Look at workstation designs, tools, floor surfaces, adjustable seating, better illumination where needed, and screens and surfaces with less glare.
Utilize teams and teamwork strategies: Encourage your older workers to meet with supervisors/managers to brainstorm solutions to age-associated problems. They are closest to these problems and are often best equipped to suggest solutions.
Provide health promotion and lifestyle interventions:Encourage physical activity, healthy meal options, smoking cessation, risk factor reduction and screening, coaching and on-site medical care. Accommodate medical self-care in the workplace and time away for health visits.
Invest in training and building work skills and competencies at all age levels: Help older employees adapt to new technologies, which often are a concern for both employers and older workers.
Proactively manage reasonable accommodations and the return-to-work process: This will help older workers return to work duties following injuries or illnesses.
Take aging workforce management skills training: This should include a focus on the most effective ways to manage a multi-generational workforce.