Time For Your Occupational Health Program to Grow Up! – Five Keys to Working With an Aging Workforce

Most company occupational health programs address two things:

  1. What testing do we need to bring a new worker on board and
  2. What do we do if a worker gets hurt.

But there is growing evidence that they need to be looking at the changing occupational health needs of workers as they age.   While it is tempting to treat an employee with 20 years of experience the same as we did when he went through his initial onboarding process at 24, that is not reality.

Government studies make it clear that the workforce is aging and as it ages its needs are changing.  Reports from U.S. Census Bureau indicate that one-third of the total U.S. workforce is at least 50 years old.  The number of 50+ year old workers is expected to be about 115 million by 2020.

The value of older Americans working longer is obvious.  More expertise and skills, better leadership and quality leadership for the next generation of workers.   But there is a downside from an occupational health standpoint.  According to a University of Wisconsin study quoted in government reports:

The incidence of disability among working age Americans is: 9.5 percent for workers in the 18- to 24-year-old range, 20+ percent for workers in the 45- to-54-year-old range, and approximately 42 percent for workers in the 65+ age range. Older people are also more likely to have multiple disabling conditions and to have chronic disabling conditions.

How should a company address this potential exposure, for the good of the worker and for the company?  Here are five tips:

  1. Develop realistic job descriptions, including accurate functional requirements, and review them regularly to include any trends in disability cases.
  2. Determine possible light duty and job accommodations before anyone suffers an injury.  This may include job assessments to understand the actual hazards and requirements of a job.   Again, don’t wait until someone is hurt to look at options.
  3. Have a clear return-to-work program.  Expect that knees, hips and backs are going to go out. Make sure you know what it takes for someone to be effective in their jobs and not exacerbate a health problem when they get back.
  4. Expand your wellness program to focus on workers with potentially life-threatening health problems.  One of the most cost-effective and proven wellness programs involves monitoring and assisting workers who have critical health issues.
  5. Focus on early intervention and case management for on the job injuries.  This really applies to all workplaces, but it is especially important when dealing with the types of muscular/skeletal system injuries that may occur with an older workforce.  Expert medical advice and providing the right treatment at the right time can keep a small injury from becoming a major one, speed the time it takes an employee to get back to work and increase employee engagement.

An aging workforce should be seen as a positive thing, an investment in skill and knowledge that pays huge benefits for companies.   However, keeping that workforce healthy and engaged takes a different approach to occupational health than the one that applies to a company of 20-somethings.

  • Do you need help making sure you have the right occupational health program for all of your workers?  
  • Do you need a gap analysis of your program to see what you may be missing?  
  • What about your post-incident injury management program?  

CORE Health Network is an integrated occupational health company that provides both traditional clinic services and telemedicine approaches to help you manage your workforce.   Contact kwells@corehealthnet.com to find out how you can make sure your employees get the help they need and that you have the right approach to minimizing recordables and workers comp.  


Leave a Reply