Age is not an independent risk factor for developing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) such as strains, overexertion, rotator cuff injury, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, etc. Yet, older workers are more susceptible to MSDs because of decreased functional capacity, strength and flexibility. So says a 2010 publication from Health and Safety Executive titled “Ageing and Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders.”
Musculoskeletal Disorders Increase With Aging Workforce
Let’s unpack this finding and discuss what it means for you. MSDs are the leading cause of workplace injuries according to the most recent Liberty Mutual Safety Index from 2013.
Current research indicates that the prevalence and severity of MSDs among older workers is expected to grow. Early indications are that the prevalence will likely grow an additional 15%.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the average age of the workforce is increasing with the greatest gains coming from workers over age 65. This gradual increase in the average age of the workforce is expected to continue for perhaps the next 15 to 20 years. So, nearly every employer faces a significant challenge due to its aging workforce.
But Traditional Ergonomics Solutions Still Apply
Increasing age is not an independent risk factor but is instead correlated with a loss of worker capacity. The observed increase in injury rate is thus the same issue that ergonomics has always worked to solve: a mismatch between worker capacity and work demands. Thus, there is much that can be done. We can decrease work demands and increase or at least hold stable worker capability.
The traditional ergonomics solutions of reducing awkward postures, force and frequency still apply. Furthermore, the traditional rollout of wellness programs to maintain and improve health and capability also still apply. However, the increasing priority that these forecasts suggest means that they are more important than ever. With regard to MSDs there are three particularly strong personal predisposing risk factors: diabetes, thyroid disease and elevated body mass index. Wellness programs will need to add particular emphasis here.
Older workers bring many benefits with them. Not least of which include increased reliability, greater commitment and dedication to duty, decreased turnover and absenteeism, diversity of experience, knowledge and skill sets that they possess.
An ergonomics-friendly workplace is the aging-worker’s essential workplace.
Have you got ergonomics? If not yet, you may want to think about it. Your aging workers want to know.