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Age-appropriate PPE

March 1, 2009

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How can ergonomic design in PPE help the aging worker?

Answered by Tom Votel, president and CEO, Ergodyne, St. Paul, MN.

America's workforce is starting to go gray. In fact, the percentage of older members of the workforce (older than 55) is predicted to increase 49 percent from 2004 to 2014, according to projections published in Monthly Labor Review. This is happening because of an overall aging population, but advances in health care and economic forces that discourage early retirement are also increasingly playing a role.

These workers will become the most vulnerable to injuries and illness. That's where appropriate supportive gear can help. PPE supports can help relieve stress, reduce injuries and increase productivity for an aging workforce. Besides the benefit to workers, employers can also see an increase in productivity and lower health care costs.

As with any other endeavor, reducing the risk of injury takes the correct equipment to get the job done right. Over the past decade, companies have seen an increasing demand for supports, wraps and sleeves to help workers protect and support their most valuable asset: their body. We all lose endurance, strength, durability and flexibility as we get older, but by skillfully managing these losses, workers can help prolong their careers. Choosing the right supports and wraps can help.

Back supports are the most crucial and effective PPE because this area of the body also tends to be the most vulnerable for injuries as we age. Every movement starts with your trunk (shoulders to waist) and, if not supported correctly, health issues can spread to other areas of the body. Ideal for the material handler, construction worker, landscaper, warehouse or assembly worker, a good back support should have firm, continuous lower back support and good durability.

Many occupations have a heightened risk for repetitive wrist stress and overuse injuries. With older workers, minor sprains, strains and arthritis can become common. Workers can wear a wrist support to limit upward and downward movements to provide support and reduce the strain associated with these more risky tasks.

As we age, the padding in our joints deteriorates and can cause aches, pains and even arthritis. Wraps and sleeves aren't only for athletes and outdoor enthusiasts. The contoured design of elbow and knee wraps conforms to the body's natural shape and provides helpful support and warmth to these vulnerable areas.



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