Guest Author – Great Article On How Employers Can Extend Longevity Among Older Workers
Older workers have some of the best qualities an employer could want in a worker: expertise, loyalty, commitment to quality, and the ability to be outstanding mentors to others. But the physical challenges that accompany the aging process can be daunting for both the employee and the organization.
By understanding the aging process and being open to making some changes, employers can keep these valuable employees — and avoid potential litigation. Two workers’ compensation experts outlined the obstacles and opportunities available in their ‘Pearls of Wisdom, an Aging Workforce’ session at RIMS.
“Almost 20 percent of the workforce is over 65,” said Dawn Watkins, director of Integrated Disability Management for the Los Angeles Unified School District. While that number is 9 million now, it is expected to increase to about 98 million by 2060. Joining Watkins for the presentation was Darrell Brown, chief Claims Officer for Sedgwick. The two identified some of the unique risks of aging workers and ways employers can mitigate them and capitalize on their capabilities.
Older workers have the fewest number of work-related injuries, according to researchers. However, the severity costs associated with injuries of workers aged 35 and older are 50 percent higher compared to their younger colleagues. While that is partly due to higher wages, aging workers typically have more comorbid conditions and take longer to recover from their injuries.
The types of injuries also vary among different age groups. Older workers tend to have more rotator cuff and knee injuries while younger workers have more back and ankle sprains.
Among the physical changes that may accompany aging are the following:
- Strength — a decrease of 25 to 30 percent.
- Flexibility — decreases 18 to 20 percent.
- Balance — 1/3 of those aged 65 and older fall each year.
- Sight — all aspects can deteriorate.
- Reaction time and speed — decreases.
- Hearing — 1/3 of adults 65 to 74 years of age have problems.
- Manual dexterity — decreases.
- Body fat — increases.
“Older workers tend to have more slips, trips and falls, often due to decreased balance,” the two explained. “They also have a higher number of illness days.”
There are several specific signs that may indicate the aging process is impacting an employee. Increased fatigue, for example, or loss of patience along with irritability may be signs. An increase in minor injuries and near misses are others.
Addressing Physical Challenges
Employers can help prevent injuries among older workers through various worksite programs, according to an industry physical therapy expert. “Injury prevention programs such as stretching, body mechanics training, and general education on the types of injuries you can get on your job can really help,” said Daniel Sanchez, VP of Operations for OnSite-Physio. “They should also be shown how to do their job tasks properly to avoid injury.”
When older workers sustain injuries their recoveries may take longer due to preexisting conditions. “An underlying condition is often not mentioned by the treating physician, but it makes the recovery slower,” Sanchez said. “If you are providing physical therapy for an older person with a sprained knee and there are arthritic changes that cause the recovery to be slower you have to change your treatment approach to be less aggressive with the therapy. You don’t want to aggravate the underlying condition.”
In addition to physical activities, there are additional changes employers should consider to help their older workers. Training materials, for example, can be produced in large print to make it easier to read for those with poorer eyesight. Collaboration and knowledge can be integrated as a fundamental requirement of every job at every level. And jobs can be modified to respond to age-related changes.
Chronic or other medical conditions of aging workers might prompt a request for reasonable accommodation. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, private employers with 15 or more employees are required to provide a covered job applicant or employee with a reasonable accommodation, unless doing so would pose undue hardship or direct threat.
Workers who believe they are covered may request an accommodation verbally or in writing. While there is no specific time frame, employers are advised to respond to requests as soon as possible to avoid violating the ADA. “If you can’t deal with this accommodation issue now, how will you deal with it in a deposition,” Watkins said.
Making accommodations does not need to be costly. “Modifying jobs is a great way to address reasonable accommodation,” Watkins said. “You can adjust [the job] based on the person’s needs.”
Using best practices in managing all claims is the best way to avoid litigation. There are several ways that can translate to claims involving older workers.
“Be sure the treating physician is experienced with comorbidities and psychosocial issues among older people,” Brown explained. “Also, use empathy and caring. And don’t draw conclusions based on demographics, including the age of the claimant.”
Communicating with an older injured worker may involve sending a letter or initiating a phone call, rather than sending a text message. Respect, dignity, open mindedness and fairness are essential.
“We have a customer service approach to claims,” Watkins said. We return calls. We do the things we expect as consumers.”
Authored by and thanks to
Nancy Grover President, NMG Consulting
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