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We're working longer: Work environments had better respond to that

Tomorrow’s manufacturing work environment in Ohio and elsewhere across the country will look quite different from what it does today. As noted in a recent report on the subject, managers of industrial worksites will “be proactive in employing new strategies and proven tactics to reduce injury triggers in the workplace.”

Given the statistical certainty that an increasingly higher rate of older workers will be busily engaged on the job, that had better be the case. If not, the potential for high numbers of on-the-job injuries and a resulting loss of business productivity will become a stark reality.

The American employment landscape in upcoming years -- and emerging even now -- is strongly trending toward increased numbers of mature employees.

The reasons for that are many, but a bottom-line factor keeping ever-more Americans in the workplace for more years than they once anticipated is increased economic need brought on by the harsh financial realities of recent years.

An aging workforce is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, employers benefit in many ways from having experienced and proven workers on the job with demonstrated histories of reliability and the ability to pass along knowledge to younger employees. On the other hand, older workers have more physical constraints than do their younger counterparts. That is simply indisputable, and certain types of work, such as the lifting, carrying and climbing associated with various manufacturing and industrial jobs, results in high numbers of injuries -- as well as workers’ compensation claims -- for older workers.

Employers seeking maximum benefit from an experienced workforce will need to respond to the special health concerns of more mature employees by designing work environments that are ergonomically sound and that actively promote safety.

Not doing so will be prohibitively expensive. Even now, the estimated cost associated with workplace accidents and injuries that occur across the country annually is $170 billion.

Source: Manufacuring.net, "The Gray Shift part 1: An aging workforce creates new workplace injury issues," Earl Hagman, Sept. 25, 2013

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