Working through the pain

The father of one of my relatives by marriage lives in a small town in Indiana. He's an easygoing, no-fuss kind of guy. I'll never forget hearing about how after breaking part of a tooth, he super-glued it back on until he could see a dentist.

A major American manufacturer operates a plant in the man's hometown. The town counts itself lucky that, unlike so many other small towns, the plant hasn’t been closed down and the jobs haven't been eliminated or sent overseas.

The plant is the main employer in the area, and the man has worked there most of his adult life. Now in his late 50s, he's still maintaining machinery at the plant, but the tasks he has performed for so long aren’t as easy as they used to be. He also appears to be badly in need of hip replacement surgery; when I see him walk he sometimes looks to be in so much pain that I wince inwardly. When I asked someone close to him why he won't seek treatment, the answer was simple – and sobering: He's an hourly employee, and he doesn't want to risk taking extended time off work for a medical procedure.

I worry about him sometimes, as I do others in his predicament. These people have spent their lives performing manual labor, and the advancement of time (and its effects on the body) doesn't diminish the need to earn a paycheck. In her feature article this month, Associate Editor Ashley Johnson looks at the adjustments some employers – particularly manufacturers – are making to accommodate their aging workers.

Many Americans are resigned to the fact that the time no longer exists when they can spend a lifetime working hard for a single employer and be ensured a comfortable pension to help care for them in their old age. But the least the aging workforce deserves is the ability to continue working so they can take care of themselves.

The opinions expressed in "Editor's Note" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.


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