Approximately 10,000 people began turning 65 each month in the U.S, a trend that is projected to continue for the next 18 years. The fact is, Baby Boomers are staying in the workforce longer than their predecessors. Some continue to work because they enjoy their jobs and others, for economic reasons, have been forced to stay at their jobs longer than they--or their employers--may have anticipated.

Older workers bring significant knowledge and experience to the table and often have lower absenteeism and turnover rates than their younger counterparts.  Because of the value they bring to their organizations, employers need to consider adapting the workplace to fit their needs.

Workers' Compensation risks

"As workers age, levels of strength, range of motion, flexibility and balance are reduced," said Tom Heebner, Risk Consultant for HUB International.  "It takes older workers longer to recover from injuries once they are sustained, which means the return to work process can take much longer."  Since many employers are operating with fewer employees than in the past, Tom noted that slower recovery time impacts company productivity.

The following tips can help reduce workers' compensation injuries, prevent improper categorization of injuries as workers' compensation, and improve return-to-work rates:

  • Review your organization's safety and engineering requirements.  Make sure there is a good match between each worker's capabilities and the job demands.
  • Proactively evaluate jobs and tasks to determine if ergonomic improvements will reduce the need for muscle power and eliminate wasted motion.
  • Focus on reducing slips and falls, which is the largest category of injuries for workers over age 60. Fall injuries result in greater disability among older workers. (NCCI, 2006)  Maintaining slip-resistant flooring and effective floor cleaning methods are just a few ways to reduce slips and falls. 
  • Maintain sufficient lighting both inside and outside your facility.
  • If your employees drive on company business, you should regularly assess driving skills for all ages. On an annual basis, verify driver's license status and obtain motor vehicle reports.
  • Include components in your company wellness program that specifically address the concerns of older workers.
  • Thoroughly investigate all potential workers' compensation claims to identify improvements that can be made to the work environment.
  • Evaluate your current training methods.  While studies show that older workers are more motivated and more likely to complete training programs than younger workers, they may require more training time. Older workers learn differently than younger workers and may perform better in a self-paced environment that includes written instructions. 
  • Develop an employee contact protocol to keep injured employees engaged with the workplace in the event are not able to come back to work right away.  Return-to-work outcomes are improved when communication takes place with workers on disability leave.

Employers must be aware of and sensitive to the fact that age and performance are not significantly related.  "Research reveals an average 5 to 15 percent decrease in peak work function ability in healthy workers as they age," says Glenn Pransky, M.D., director of Liberty Mutual's Center for Disability Research.  "But it also shows that the actual impact on these workers' job performance is minimal, because they tend to compensate through such attributes as experience, skills, motivation and maturity."

Older workers make a significant contribution to the workforce. Make sure that your organization understands the physical challenges that take place as workers age and put the right resources in place to meet their needs.

The next issue of HUB Connects will explore liability issues pertaining to older workers.