Sunday, July 27, 2008

Businesses Face New Safety Challenges as Workforce Ages.

Businesses Face New Safety Challenges as Workforce Ages

As the number of employees over the age of 55 continues to rise, businesses are faced with the challenge of retaining these valuable workers while reducing health- and injury-related losses. Studies by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show aging workers have fewer workplace injuries, but diabetes, hypertension and other age-related ailments are increasing employers' costs associated with medical insurance and lost work production.

Businesses can help mitigate their losses by improving policies and workplace design to allow employees to continue to work in a safe and healthy environment, said Tina Minter, a loss control specialist with the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies.

"Older workers are highly valued by employers for their judgment, flexibility, experience and creativity," Minter said. "Fortunately, many of them will work beyond the traditional retirement age of 65, due partly to advances in health care. This presents both opportunities and challenges to businesses, which will need to adapt to maintain a safe work environment for these workers."

Minter and her colleague, Russell Dronne, a Chubb loss control specialist based in New York, recently led a session, titled "The Aging Workforce: It's Not Just Ergonomics," at the American Society of Safety Engineers' (ASSE) Professional Development Conference and Exposition, Safety 2008, in Las Vegas.

Although injury rates among older workers are lower than those of their younger counterparts, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, other factors can contribute to increased health and safety exposures: age-related chronic disorders and diseases, loss of hearing, impaired vision and physical and cognitive limitations.

Minter advises businesses to take action to address these risk factors. Some examples of what businesses can do include:

a) Allow for flexible work hours so those with poor night vision can adjust their start and finish time to coincide with daylight hours.

b) Encourage employees to use the health care system for preventative well visits.

c) Eliminate heavy lifts, elevated work from ladders and long reaches.

d) Encourage employees working at a computer to take small breaks every 30 minutes.

e) Don't rely on sound as the sole means of emergency communications, as employees with hearing loss may not hear announcements.

"Employers should include older workers in the design process and seek outside professionals for assistance in adapting the workplace, training and human resources policies to fit the aging workforce," Dronne said.

Minter's and Dronne's session was one of seven led by Chubb loss control specialists at this year's ASSE conference. Other topics covered by Chubb included nanotechnology, global supply chain exposures, fire protection, sprinkler design and OSHA inspections.

Chubb's Loss Control Services unit provides loss prevention and premium audit services to more than 100,000 customers annually. With more than 400 risk engineers around the world, the unit offers Chubb customers specialized assistance in disaster planning; fire prevention, detection and suppression; employee health and safety; cargo security; preventive-maintenance planning; and asset protection.

The member insurers of the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies form a multibillion-dollar organization providing property and casualty insurance for personal and commercial customers worldwide through 8,500 independent agents and brokers. Chubb's global network includes branches and affiliates in North America, Europe, Latin America, Asia and Australia.

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