According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the American workforce will include 31.9 million individuals over the age of 55 by 2015. This statistic should be of particular interest to construction employers who want to maintain safety on their jobsites. Aging not only causes decreases in strength, mobility, vision, hearing and cognition—all factors that can contribute to workplace injuries—it also increases the chances for co-morbidities (for example, a back injury combined with disc degeneration) that lengthen the time necessary for recovery before an employee can return to work.
Consider the following age-related dangers and ways to minimize their effects on your construction workforce’s safety:
Loss of Strength – As we age, our muscle mass tends to decrease. This leads to reduced strength and faster fatigue. Heavy lifting and lowering, tasks requiring grip force, and even simple repetitive movements all become more difficult as strength and endurance declines. Fortunately, you can assist your older workers by reducing the time they spend completing these tasks and providing them with mechanized equipment and tools to compensate. You should also try to keep their work in a neutral zone, eliminating the need to perform while bent over or with a twisted torso.
Diminished Vision – As we age, our eyes begin to lose their ability to adapt to light level changes. Studies have shown that a 60-year-old requires two to three times the amount of light as a 20-year-old. We also become extremely sensitive to glare, and our field of vision and depth perception can suffer as well. This can easily lead to trips, falls and other injuries caused by visual misinterpretation. Improve the safety of the workplace for your older workers by increasing the light available. Utilize task-specific lighting as well as indirect lighting whenever possible.
Reduced Cognitive Ability – As we age, our mental processing and reaction times slow. We may be just as intelligent as ever, but it takes us longer to perform mental tasks. Our motor function also decreases as a result, leading to a reduction in dexterity and coordination. While the degree of decline is generally small, and is unlikely to interfere with a construction worker’s day-to-day performance, it can make learning new tasks challenging. Fortunately, you can assist your older workers by providing them with adequate time to practice. Hands-on learning opportunities are essential, as is accommodating for any vision or hearing loss within your aging workforce.
Did you consider the demographics of your workforce when creating your jobsite safety and risk management plans? If you’d like further assistance, contact your safety and risk management advisor.