While the days may seem long the years go by fast, and in the blink of an eye America’s workforce is changing dramatically. Instead of one identifiable demographic, the workplace now spans four generations: baby boomers, generation X, millennials, and post-millennials. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010, 42% of the workplace was aged 45 or higher, and by 2050 this age group is projected to encompass nearly 50% of the entire labor force. So what does this mean for you? Plan now or your company could pay for it later.
To manage your company’s maturing workforce risk, it is imperative to review your current work environment and company policies. In collaboration with FCCI Insurance, consider the following when conducting an internal assessment:
· Reaction Time Changes – As age increases so do reaction times. Tip: Implement regular training opportunities, employee performance reviews, and development of employee “soft-skills” (I.e. self-awareness and self-regulation) to help your workforce maintain and enhance their safety procedure habits.
· Vision Changes – Maturing workers are faced with common age-related vision changes, including the need for more light, changes in color perception, problems with glare and depth perception, and decreases in peripheral vision. Tip: Regularly evaluate the work assignment, structure and exterior lighting on each project for employee safety and quality control. For high risk exposures (I.e. crane operators, forklift operators, and truck drivers), consider implementing annual eye exams for these employees.
· Hearing Changes – Some degree of hearing loss is almost inevitable as we age. The most common age-related problem relates to changes in the auditory nerve, which can lead to difficulty in clearly hearing high-frequency sounds. Tip: Evaluate current communication methods for all employees as verbal commands may be more difficult for a maturing workforce. Consider various way to communicate (E.g. verbal, written, and/or hand signals). In an effort to avoid increased hearing loss, properly monitor employee noise exposure, provide the proper hearing protection to employees, and keep records regarding the level of noise exposure employees are subjected to on a regular basis.
· Physical Changes – With increased age comes changes to balance, muscular function and gait, which can lead to an increase in workplace falls and overall injuries. Tip: Utilize non-skid surfaces and the addition of handrails to prevent slips and falls. Proper footwear, adequate lighting, and “safety yellow” paint can assist in increased awareness of safety concerns. Limit activities that involve high repetition and force to avoid increased stress on joints and certain body parts.
To properly manage your workers’ compensation costs, it is important to understand your company’s loss experience and determine which areas are driving loss frequency and severity. The harsh reality is that workers’ compensation claims cost more when an older employee is injured on the job, which is mostly attributed to the presence of additional chronic diseases in the worker. Incorporation of the above considerations into company policies as well as implementation of company wellness activities, which can merge the gap between safety and health for employees, and return-to-work programs for injured employees can help employers meet the needs of their entire workforce while ensuring they are managing their total cost of risk.
With a maturing workforce comes a plethora of experience, leadership, and problem-solving skills, which is immeasurable to a company’s sustainment and growth. According to AARP, “By 2022 nearly a quarter of people 70 to 74 will be working – double the figure in 1992.” Companies must adapt their policies to properly meet the safety needs of their workers as the maturing workforce is here to stay.