Experienced Workers

Experienced Workers

Experienced, older workers (i.e., workers older than 45) can have a positive effect on a company's safety culture. They are often better trained and can show younger workers how to do things right. They've seen first-hand what can happen if safety precautions are not followed. However, as workers get older, certain considerations should be taken into account to keep them safe from injuries and illnesses.

Different types of work have an effect on older workers' bodies. IHSA members tend to work in high-risk industries that are physically demanding. Keeping them safe often requires that they work in peak mental and physical condition.

While every person is different, certain physical changes can happen to us as we age:

  • The body loses some strength, range of motion, and flexibility.
  • The ability of the heart, lungs and circulatory system to carry oxygen decreases.
  • It's more difficult to maintain good posture and balance and to regulate our sleep cycles.
  • The body’s ability to adjust to hot and cold conditions is reduced.
  • Hearing and vision changes occur.

Age can also play a role in the type of injuries workers develop and the severity of those injuries. While most studies show that older workers tend to have fewer incidents, their injuries are often more severe and they may take longer to recover. Younger workers tend to get more eye or hand injuries, but older workers report more back and repetitive motion injuries. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) often take time to develop and many are the result of doing the same things again and again. So those who have been working longer are more at risk of developing an MSD.

Some occupational diseases also take a long time to develop, so they are more commonly found in older workers. The most prevalent for IHSA members are noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) and diseases related to asbestos exposure (e.g., mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer). Workers who are at increased risk should visit their health care providers and get tested or screened regularly. Early detection is key.

Workplaces can help keep older workers safe by:

  • making adjustments to their work stations or work patterns
  • making sure they are physically suited for a particular task and not pushing them beyond their limitations
  • keeping tools and equipment in good working condition and using ergonomic tools and equipment where possible
  • reinforcing good ergonomic work practices
  • taking age factors into account when doing risk assessments
  • promoting workplace health initiatives such as active living, stress reduction, and healthy eating.

For more information, visit the Aging Workers web page on the CCOHS website.

For more information on reducing MSDs, click the links below:

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For more information about occupational diseases, click the links below:

Last Updated: January 28, 2020

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