Ergonomic Principles Shouldn't Change With Aging Workforce, Expert Says
According to an expert from Humantech consulting firm in Ann Arbor, Mich., if employers emphasize the same proper ergonomics design for older workers as they do for the rest of their employees, they will be able to keep baby boomers a healthy and vital part of their team.
"The aging workforce has such a stigma attached to it," said Kent Hatcher, managing consultant and ergonomics engineer for Humantech. "However, the take-home message should be that this population presents an opportunity, not a liability. Employers can benefit by keeping these experienced workers on staff, and that's why proper ergonomic design is so important."
In a white paper -- The Future of Manufacturing: Optimizing an Aging Workforce -- Humantech officials illustrate how older employees can be an asset for companies. These workers, researchers said, suffer fewer injuries than their younger counterparts, offer a greater skill set, and are typically more motivated and focused on quality than their younger peers.
"Too many companies are still treating the aging workforce as a root cause of the problem," Hatcher said. "However, with respect to manual material handling, it doesn't matter if it is a 20-year-old or a 50-year-old if you are talking about a problem job that presents hazards and is poorly designed. There are fundamental ergonomic principles that need to be followed. Good ergonomic design for the aging population is good ergonomics for everyone."
In addition to good ergonomic principles, Hatcher said, employers can take a proactive approach to address some of the particular challenges older workers face by:
- Increasing illumination. Because visual acuity typically declines by more than 25 percent by age 60, Hatcher recommended employers boost illumination by 20 percent. All workers can benefit from properly lit work areas.
- Ensuring regular health checks for shift workers older than 40.
- Avoiding using small print in instructions, orders or on equipment. Use 11-point font or larger. In addition, avoid using small laptop screens. Connect the laptop to an external monitor that is 17 inches or larger.
- Examining the placement of work. Many workers in manufacturing may be using computers to review shipping labels or packaging. Hatcher said it is important to make sure that these environments are adjustable and account for aging workers loss of field of view, motion perception, and depth perception.
July 2, 2009
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