Managing an aging workforce
What are some practical ways to enhance safety for aging workers?
Responding is Kevan Orvitz, president and founder, MEGAComfort Work-Life Wellness Solutions, MEGAComfort Inc., Tustin, CA.
Failure to plan leads business owners and managers down a costly path. Many workplaces are focused on attracting millennial workers, hoping to hire and retain them while keeping them satisfied and engaged in their jobs.
Although it’s important to value Generation Z and millennials, the aging workforce is a powerful force that provides tremendous value to a business and deserves planning and protection. Many older workers are extremely skilled and productive. Most have spent years working in their field and have a significant amount of know-how. They tend to have a strong work ethic and are professional and reliable.
Currently, “1 in every 5 American workers is over 65, and, in 2020, 1 in 4 American workers will be over 55,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states, citing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This shift in demographics within the workplace makes creating a healthy and safe workplace critical to the success of a company and its workers.
Aging workers have a vital role in the future of a business, and companies can improve employee safety by following these five practical tips:
- Discuss and educate. The first step to ensure workers are on the same page as management is to have open communication. Identifying solutions to current problems can only occur when employees feel safe and empowered to discuss the safety issues concerning them. One great way to get the conversation flowing is to walk through your employees’ workspace together. Ask them about their daily tasks, workflow and area. Ask open-ended questions about how their work areas can be made safer, provide more comfort and reduce physical strain.
- Health and fitness. A healthy workplace is a happy workplace. Working in a healthful environment promotes safety and mindfulness. The healthier the workforce, the less likely an injury. Older employees are prone to strains; sprains; and knee, hip and back pain. Most of these issues accumulate over time because of a lack of strength, flexibility and muscle support. Management should lead by example and educate employees about the vital nature of being healthy.
- Limit physical demands. Older workers are susceptible to injuries and are often required to do strenuous work. Supervisors should use quality communication to understand their workforce and pinpoint the physical restrictions of their aging workforce. Employees are typically aware of their limitations, and when they feel safe disclosing this information they can help build programs and solutions for tasks that they cannot perform safely.
- Accountability. The best safety and wellness programs work when everyone is on board. Providing the groundwork for employees to feel engaged is essential. Older workers can feel more confident discussing their limitations when they know others are participating in the same discussion. Finding solutions as a team makes the efforts more rewarding. It’s important to set goals, provide workers with positive feedback and talk collectively about solutions.
- Provide personal protective equipment. PPE ensures incidents are avoided as much as possible. Common workplace hazards such as wet floors and falling objects are harmful to any worker, especially older ones. Replacing a tripping hazard, such as anti-fatigue matting, with personal anti-fatigue insoles reduces slip, trip and fall hazards. Providing older workers with shock absorption and foot support is critical to ensuring they can comfortably walk around the workplace with ease.
Protecting the aging workforce doesn’t have to be costly or overwhelming. Instead, it can be an opportunity to create a healthy, engaged, active workforce that is committed to performing safely and mindfully. Providing workers with the foundation of discussion, accountability and PPE can make a tremendous difference in their workplace contributions.