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Risk Management

Ergonomic Interventions for the Aging Workforce

Up to 85% of baby boomers are expected to work into their 70s. With a rapidly aging workforce and musculoskeletal injuries costing up to $54 billion annually, it's time to reassess your ergonomics program.

July 16, 2021

According to a recent publication from the National Bureau of Economic Research, over the next 10 years, the growth rate in the number of individuals in the labor force age 55 or older is projected to be more than three times as fast as the growth rate for individuals 25 to 54 (1.4% per year compared to 0.4%). Older employees now constitute a much larger segment of the workforce – over 25% of workers will be 55 or older by 2028. In light of these statistics, employers should be aware of risk factors in relation to ergonomics and their older workers.

Work is often designed based on production demands without regard to human factors, resulting in an increased risk of injuries. Human factors within the context of an aging workforce include capabilities with respect to human parameters, education and motivation. Repetitive motion, awkward postures (such as bending/stooping), overreaching and wrist deviation are all ergonomic risk factors. In addition, manually handling excessive weight due to the lack of mechanical aids causes undo biomechanical forces on the body that lead to related injuries and illnesses. An aging workforce cannot continue to meet production demands by subjecting itself to risk factors that exacerbate the natural degeneration of the body without experiencing severe musculoskeletal injuries at some point.

Ergonomics is intended to maximize productivity by minimizing worker fatigue and discomfort. A great place to start is examining work surfaces and the impact on all workers, especially concerning their aging workforce. Employers should use workers’ compensation claims data and employee reports of discomfort to prioritize which specific work areas to assess for ergonomic issues and, subsequently, employ interventions.

“Employers can contact ergonomists and risk control professionals for their expertise on how to control and reduce the risks of ergonomic-related claims,” said Sonya Luisoni, Senior Risk Control Manager at Safety National. “They can identify risk factors and suggest strategies, like engineering controls, including mechanical assist devices or practices that reduces manual handling, or administrative controls, including adjusted work schedules and workloads.”

Regardless of the method, ergonomic interventions must be accepted by the workforce and, at the very least, reduce biomechanical forces on the human body to be effective.

Workers’ compensation interventions for an aging workforce must be viewed as an investment where the returns are reduced workers’ compensation losses. Employers who adopt a proactive aging workforce strategy can gain a competitive advantage over those who do not.