As we discussed last month in the first part of this column, older workers are more productive and are overall safer than their younger colleagues. The catch for employers, however, is the severity of a workers' compensation claim if they get injured. Taking that into consideration when implementing their workers' compensation programs and risk control procedures, what can employers do to also accommodate and capitalize on the aging workforce?
Companies must utilize and implement preventative safety efforts. Specifically, companies should develop slip-and-fall prevention tactics, considering that slips and falls account for 33 percent of all injuries sustained by workers 65 and older, according to the National Safety Council.
Safety training should consist of more than just scripted lectures, distributed pamphlets and orientation videos. Employees should be taken through the physical movements and tasks that are specific to their job description--a hands-on learning experience. Because younger workers account for the majority of accidents while older workers have longer recovery periods, safety training benefits all employees and the employer.
MODIFY WORK ENVIRONMENTS
Older workers are good for companies so it pays to modify work environments in order to prevent their injuries and limit severity when injuries do occur. The American Society of Safety Engineers urges employers to keep their older workers in mind when designing workplaces so that productivity is maximized and the potential for accidents is minimized.
A well-designed workplace helps new hires and experienced workers, young and old. A few options for improvements include:
-- Increasing task rotation
--Designing work floors with smooth, solid decking and skid-resistant flooring
-- Lengthening time requirements between task steps
-- Reducing static standing/sitting time and noise levels
-- Using high-contrast colors on risers and treads on stairs
-- Considering employee reaction time when assigning tasks, and match work with ability
ERGONOMICS AND WELLNESS PROGRAMS
Shoulders, backs and wrists are body areas with high musculoskeletal claim severity in older workers. Employers should identify causes of strain and fatigue through an ergonomic evaluation of workstations and workspaces, and apply corrections. Promoting and implementing health and wellness programs at work have a positive and productive outcome as well.
A company does not need to overhaul their entire structure to suit older workers, but adjusting job tasks and tools to fit the employee are good best practices to follow--no matter the employee's age.
Employers can work to contain medical and indemnity costs associated with a workers' compensation claims for their older workers through an aggressive return-to-work program. This includes modifying work duties and transitional assignments for the injured older worker. When a worker becomes injured or ill, concerns are raised over loss of income and how and when the person can return to work. With an older worker, these issues can be intensified by worry surrounding the ability to remain productive and employed.
Studies connect the amount of healing time to the age of the worker, so a highly responsive and vigorous return-to-work effort can benefit the employer and increase healing time. Not only are these overall good risk-control practices for employers--and an injured employee of any age--but being aware of older workers will benefit companies' bottom lines as our American workforce continues to age over the next 10 to 20 years.
(Editor's note: In the first part of this column, we covered the statistics and issues of the aging workforce and their impact on employers and their workers' compensation program. Read it here.)
MARK NOONAN is a managing principal and the senior knowledge manager for workers' compensation for the Casualty Practice within Integro Insurance Brokers.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
October 6, 2010
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