With the retirement age being extended, and Australia’s ageing population, there is an increasing need for businesses to consider the ways in which ageing can affect employees, and adapt OHS strategies accordingly.
Reducing the risk of illness and injury for older workers has been shown to increase workplace productivity, reduce absenteeism and staff turnover, enable better workplace relationships and reduce the risk of compensation claims.
Employers with an ageing workforce should develop targeted risk management programs to reduce the risk of injury in older workers. It is important that consultation occur with staff when looking at any changes to create engagement, support buy in and to achieve the best possible outcomes. In developing your risk management program, here are some of the key risk factors you should consider, and tips for how they can be best managed.
As we age, our bones tend to become more porous and prone to breakage. Slips, trips and falls can also become more common, and more likely to result in serious injury. Over-exertion at work is also more likely to carry a higher risk of musculoskeletal stress and pain.
Tips for management:
- Identify and eliminate hazards that can lead to falls. While this is important for all employees, it’s particularly relevant for older workers due to the increased potential for harm that can come from slips, trips and falls. For this reason, it's also important to reduce the need for older employees to climb or to negotiate tripping hazards.
- Reduce physically demanding tasks to lower the risk of stress or strain injuries occurring.
- Older workers are more susceptible to injury from vibration, so exposure to vibration in work tasks should be limited.
As we age, our muscle strength often declines, and muscles can lose elasticity and be slower to respond. This may interfere with physical tasks and increase the risk of injury.
Tips for management:
- Adjust workstations to reduce the need for movements that can cause injury.
- Reduce the weight and size of objects that need to be moved, and provide additional mechanical lifting equipment where practical.
- Provide easy-grip tools if required.
- Ensure older workers are aware of the workplace guidelines for sitting, standing, bending and lifting. Older workers may also find it difficult to adopt certain positions.
Vision and hearing:
As we age we tend to become long-sighted, making it more difficult to read documents and screens. We also become more sensitive to glare and can lose our ability to adapt as easily to changing light levels. Our ability to hear certain sounds, such as high-pitched alarms, may also decrease.
Tips for management:
- Provide written material in larger fonts. As an employee’s age increases, their ability to read fine print can decrease.
- Provide additional protection from glare, such as anti-glare computer screens and extra shading from sunlight.
- Encourage workers to have their eyes regularly tested and to wear their glasses for reading and computer use.
- Provide warning lights as well as sirens for alarms.
- Reduce noise exposure by insulating noise or offering additional personal protective equipment for older employees.
- Encourage older workers to have regular hearing tests and to use hearing aids if necessary.
Other risk management tips
- Weight-bearing exercises and strength training have been shown to improve muscle and bone mass. Encourage or offer these types of exercise programs for older workers to help them improve their strength and flexibility.
- Job sharing/task rotation can be a great way to reduce the impact of repetitive physical tasks, and also provides some great opportunities for skill sharing.
- Rather than making assumptions about older workers, conduct surveys to find out if there are workplace issues causing them health problems.
- Allow older employees greater control over their work environment, such as determining their own rest breaks and pace of work.
- Maintain a positive and healthy attitude towards ageing in the workplace, as this can go a long way towards reducing the risk of depression and anxiety in older workers.
Many of the injury risks are the same across age groups; however, the risk of some types of injury is likely to be higher in an ageing workforce. For that reason, employers may need to re-evaluate their risk minimisation strategies and workplace practices and procedures with older workers in mind.
While there are many things employers can do to reduce the risk of illness and injury for older workers, the most effective strategy is to partner proactively with your claims management provider. Talk to Gallagher Bassett about helping your business implement effective health and safety strategies to support your aging workers.