Safety Concerns for Older Workers-September 2012

Monthly Round Up of Important Ideas and Standards in
Industrial Hygiene and Safety 

September 2012

IN THIS ISSUE: Safety Concerns for Older Workers

The U.S. population is growing older.  In some cases, people are working longer because they can. In other cases, people have delayed retire­ment due to financial circumstances. The trend is likely to continue as Baby Boomers get older. Although older workers have fewer injuries than their younger counterparts, their injuries are statistically more severe.

Factors that affect older workers include:

  • Susceptibility to Chemicals. Although there are no definitive studies on the effects of chemicals upon older workers, underlying medical issues can contribute to a heightened response. For example,the long-term effects of smoking can make it difficult to work with paints and solvents and the use of respirators. Dry skin can increase cases of dermatitis.
  • Hearing Loss. The effects of age, exposure to noise, and underlying medical conditions can cause hearing loss. Decreased hearing can reduce the ability to communicate, and recognize verbal and physical warnings such as from the deterioration of machinery.
  • Diminished Eye sight. The ability to see is affected by age, especially for close up and medium range work. This can make it difficult to read small print or use computer terminals.
  • Heat and Cold. Due to decreased blood circulation, older workers are more sensitive to temperature. Work conducted outside or in temperature-controlled environments can have a greater effect on older workers.
  • Physical Capacity. Aging decreases muscle mass and can affect strength and endurance. Diseases of age such as osteoporosis and arthritis can affect bones and joints, causing increased musculoskeletal injuries.
  • Cognitive Skills. Older workers learn at slower speeds than younger workers. This makes it more difficult to learn new skills and digest information that may be important for their health and safety.

Ways to Lessen the Effects of Aging on Worker Safety and Health:

  • Encourage workers to discuss medical conditions with their doctor that may put one at increased risk.
  • When conducting training, allow additional time for older workers to learn and understand information.
  • Monitor older workers to see if they remain able to conduct a task as well as previously, especially when there is a change in their medical condition.
  • Adjust occupational exposure standards with a safety factor to account for older employee susceptibilities to chemical and physical hazards.
  • Use engineering controls to lessen job stressors and make reasonable accommodations to fit the job to employee.
  • Use administrative controls such as task rotation and increased breaks to reduce strain from ergonomic and environmental factors.
  • Allow breaks especially where there is frequency or an ergonomic issue.
  • Monitor hearing and eyesight as needed. Increase the volume level of alarms and intercoms and improve illumination and color contrast. Make available trifocals or other types of corrective lenses for medium distance tasks or computer work.

For more information on this topic and to discuss your company’s safety and industrial hygiene needs call OccuSafe at (214) 662-6005 or (303) 219-6973 or visit us at

OccuSafe Industrial Hygiene & Safety, Inc. provides skills and expertise to recognize, evaluate andcontrol hazards and injuries in the areas of industrial hygiene, occupational safety andhealth. OccuSafe services companies of all sizes in a range of industries.

This newsletter is published monthly by OccuSafe Industrial Hygiene & Safety, Inc. Feel free to forward it to friends and colleagues.

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