Saturday, October 20, 2007

Health and Safety Professionals Must Address Aging Population’s Needs in the Workplace

At the 95th Annual National Safety Council’s (NSC) 2007 Congress and Expo held in Chicago in October, Dr. Gregory Petty, professor of health and safety programs at the University of Tennessee, led a session on "Special Safety Concerns for an Aging Workforce" to encourage health and safety professionals to take a look at the needs of older workers. According to a report of the session by Laura Water for Occupational Hazards, Petty explained that the phenomenon of so many older employees returning to the workforce after retirement can be attributed to better health, insufficient retirement funds or the desire to gain new experiences. Further, while many business and industry leaders are overlooking the increasingly older workforce, he predicted the expectations of this population’s work ability will change “with the realization that ‘old’ does not have to mean tired, sick, cautious or quiet.” However, hat the benefits of hiring older employees, however, are accompanied by risks.
Older worker face various challenges: the onset of diseases, reduced blood flow, memory problems, medication side effects and the loss of strength, stamina and flexibility. Older workers also may find it more difficult to learn new skills. Their reaction times slow down, their balance is affected and their vision and hearing quality decrease.
Among the suggestions that Petty made are for employers and health and safety professionals to be prepared to make accommodations for their older workers to keep them safe. These could include wellness programs, job analyses, and ergonomic evaluations to protect the aging workforce. He also added that restructured job duties and work hours might be beneficial to this population, as could be providing behavior-based feedback and giving more positive than negative consequences.

Source: Occupational Hazards "NSC: Special Safety Concerns for an Aging Workforce" (October 18, 2007)

Additional Sources: BLR " Managing Safety for the Aging Workforce" (October 23, 2007)

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