Foot Protection Ideas for an Increasingly Aging Workforce: Improving Safety and Preventing Injuries
Keeping all skilled workers within the workplace for as long as possible should be a high priority to any business.
- By Kevan Orvitz
- Feb 01, 2020
Everyone gets older. That’s not exactly newsworthy. However, the effects of aging within the workplace are important and critical to the success of any business. Statistics show that 42.1 million workers will be over the age of 55 by 2026, a projected increase from 35.7 million in 2016. This means aging workers will make up nearly a quarter of the labor force.1 While many industries thrive, other industries such as construction and manufacturing may be troubled by the shortage of skilled workers. Keeping all skilled workers within the workplace for as long as possible should be a high priority to any business.
Aches and Pains
Unfortunately, many aging workers are plagued by chronic illness, disease, and musculoskeletal disorders (MSD), which negatively impact health and productivity. The pain and symptoms associated with MSD are frequently labeled as “back pain.” However, back pain is just one of the many symptoms of MSD, and ignoring the root cause can lead to nerve damage and cause serious health issues that can require significant time off work, costing workers and employers greatly.
Older workers are more vulnerable to aches, pains and MSD, which increases their contribution to costs related to workplace injuries and fatalities. Statistically, workers’ compensation claims, absenteeism, and healthcare costs go up as the employee ages.2 As we age, it’s harder to recover from injury and illness. Employers owe their workers the ability to work in a safe and mindful space.
Older workers may not be able to change their workload, reduce their hours, or request less physical work, without the risk of losing their job, pension or benefits. Being motivated by fear often causes workers to lose focus on their actions and safety in the workplace. Aging workers are 19.8 percent more prone to MSD. Individuals aged 25 to 35 have an incident rate of 92.9, while their senior coworkers aged 55 to 64 have an incident rate of 115.9.
The higher MSD incident rate may be due to the fact that as we age, we lose muscle mass, bone density and strength. Combining these natural physical progressions with hard labor can be a disastrous outcome for many, especially if their workplace is disinterested in cultivating a workplace that promotes safety at any age.
Pain Free Solutions
The first step towards a safer future for aging workers is through improving the workplace’s safety program. Safety programs that do not focus on aging workers have tremendous pitfalls. Not only are they missing the opportunity to identify all workplace hazards, but they are also alienating a large portion of the workplace.
Changing the role of aging workers within the company may not be possible. However, making their jobs less physically demanding is important. Ensuring enough breaks are not only offered, but actually taken, is important. Giving aging workers the ability to take a moment to rest and recuperate can make a tremendous difference in their day and lives.
Some workers are forced to work in awkward positions all day, working on the ground or even ceiling. Having an open discussion with workers about their physical demands and how they are affected by them is a great way to gain insight into their lives. Not only does it help strengthen the relationship between worker and employer, but it illuminates workplace hazards and trends that can be affecting many workers.
Since it’s not always feasible to change the worker’s job, it is possible to introduce activities into the workplace that alleviate pain. For example, implementing time to stretch can make a tremendous difference for workers. Stretching leads to better muscle control and elasticity, with increased range of motion and flexibility. Taking frequent short breaks that include stretching can release tension and increase mental alertness. In addition to stretch breaks, it’s also a good idea to have workers warm up before work. This also helps reduce MSD by improving balance, posture, and coordination.
Being proactive is always better than being reactive, especially when it comes to MSD. Having employees report fatigue and pain at their onset can prevent bigger issues. Many workplaces install anti-fatigue matting with the best intentions of reducing MSD. However, these good intentions are often not led to fruition. Traditional anti-fatigue mats can cause more danger than good. As they age, they collect dust, debris, and peel, becoming tripping hazards. Not only are they costly to install, but they are also expensive to maintain and replace.
Using anti-fatigue insoles is a more cost-effective and longer-lasting solution for all workers, especially aging workers combating MSD. Due to their ability to provide workers with full 360-degree coverage throughout the workplace, dual-layer, anti-fatigue insoles provide maximum shock absorption and comfort with every step. While traditional floor matting covers individual workstations, anti-fatigue insoles made of dual-layer memory foam fit perfectly into the wearer’s shoes and reduce pain and fatigue while simultaneously increasing productivity and energy. Regardless of the flooring and surface, anti-fatigue insoles allow the wearer to walk comfortably throughout the workspace.
Physically demanding industries often find it difficult to make accommodations for aging workers, leaving workers with a tough decision of continuing to work in a physically demanding role or risk injury. Employers that take ergonomics seriously can find solutions that allow all aging workers to work until they want to retire, and not when their body gives out. Ergonomic and safety programs can reduce the likelihood of injury because they increase awareness of workplace hazards and create an atmosphere of safety mindfulness.
Supporting and promoting aging workers is beneficial to any business. These workers are often more reliable and committed to the goals and efforts of the company. They provide guidance for younger employees and offer an intangible value to any business. Protecting workers from MSD is an ageless endeavor, that only increases productivity throughout the workplace.
1 Special Committee on Aging, United States Senate, December 2017
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.