We all know that in today’s economy, many people are remaining in the work force much longer than their parents or grandparents did. Consequently, older workers often face an increased risk of injury than their younger counterparts. Below are some reasons why:
- In general, people lose 15 to 20% of their maximum muscular strength from the ages of 20 to 60. While older employees may be able to perform the same tasks as younger workers, in order to do so, they may have to work closer to their maximum level. Since the musculoskeletal system weakens over time, this results in decreased capacity for load-bearing work. Highly repetitive motions can cause physical problems at any age, but particularly for older workers.
- Between the ages of 20 to 60, workers also lose 15 to 20% of their range of motion. While most jobs do not require a person to use all of their strength, older employees may need to work closer to their maximum levels to get the job done. Since the musculoskeletal system weakens over time, a decreased capacity for load-bearing work can result in work related injuries.
- As we age, our bodies lose some ‘range of motion’ and flexibility. Older workers may be used to certain range of movements at one task or workstation. However, being less flexible or less able to reach can cause problems in unpredictable situations that require unusual movements.
- Between the age of 30 and 65, the ability of the heart, lungs and circulatory system to carry oxygen decreases. Functional breathing capacity can reduce by 40%. These changes can affect older workers’ ability to perform extended heavy physical labor. They also reduce the ability of older workers’ bodies to adjust to hot and cold conditions.
- In general, older people may find it harder to maintain good posture and balance. When seated or standing still, this may not be a problem. However, accidents that take place because someone loses their balance tend to happen more often with age. Work that requires precise adjustments, strong muscular effort (including lifting and carrying), joint movements at extreme angles, or those done on a slippery or unstable surface, will be affected by poorer posture. Unexpected bumps or shocks may cause a more serious problem for older workers than for younger workers.
- As we age, our bodies are not able to regulate sleep as well as we used to. How long a person sleeps and how well they sleep can additionally be disrupted by changing work hours or by light and noise. The impact on employees is especially a concern for older shift or night workers. They may need more recovery time between shifts or extended workdays.
- Older workers’ bodies are less able to maintain internal temperatures and less able to adjust to changes in external temperature or due to physical activity. This change means that older workers may find heat or cold more difficult to deal with than when they were younger. It also means that if they are doing hard manual labor, they may get overheated more easily.
- Vision changes with age. Older workers generally cannot see or read from certain distances as well as they used to. Changes also occur in the peripheral visual field, visual acuity, depth perception, resistance to glare, and light transmission. These changes are normally not noticed by a person unless there is poor lighting or there are sources of glare. Someone might also notice that they can’t see as well when they’re reading something when text size is small, or when there is poor contrast between the text and the background.
- Older workers may not be able to hear as well at higher frequencies (high pitch sounds). Most often, this change is noticed as the inability to listen to a particular voice or sound in a noisy environment. Older individuals who work with a lot of background noise may sustain injuries because they have difficulty hearing verbal instructions.
- Older workers may experience changes in mental capacity that prevent them from thinking as quickly and clearly as they once did. Also, it may take them longer to learn new skills. Tasks that depend on short-term memory usually take longer. They may also find it tricky to work in a busy environment where a lot is going on. They may be less able to focus attention only on information relevant to the task at hand, especially in “new” situations.
In conclusion, there are many hazards on the job that present greater risks of injury for older workers than for younger workers. If you, a friend or a member of your family is an older worker who has suffered a work-related injury, we can help. Call Sadow & Froy at 770-984-8900 for your free consultation today.