Aging workforce challenging H&S programs

Health and safety programs may experience pressure from increasing demands as Canadians choose to stay in the workforce for longer.

Aging workforce challenging H&S programs
With more Canadians opting to keep working past the traditional retirement age of 65, workplace health and safety programs may experience pressure from increasing demands.

“More workers are working well past 65 years of age,” said BC-based worker’s comp researcher and consultant Terry Bogyo in a report published on the Journal of Commerce.

“As a result, there will be more risks of workplace injury arising not from the workplace, but from the workers themselves.”

Deteriorating eyesight, impaired hearing, reduced muscle mass, and other changes that often come with aging can increase health and injury risk, said Bogyo. At the same time, chronic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, and hypertension become more common as people age.

Recovery rates also tend to decline with age and – according to Bogyo – a 20-year-old will take an average of 20 work days to recover from an injury whereas a 60-year-old takes an average of 60 days.

Bogyo said the situation was only being made worse because employers don’t have easy access to the statics they need in order to make comprehensive plans.

“One of the reasons they don't know is a lack of good numbers,” he said. “Statistics Canada should be a good place to look for reliable data, but it is not the easiest location to get the data a firm might need.”

Given this, Bogyo suggested that companies take the bull by the horns and conduct their own firm-level demographic analysis.

“I recall giving a talk to a group of US employers,” he said. “One very large company had noted the increase in claim duration and treatment costs. We discussed the data and found the firm had an aging labour force and that the average age of one of their injured workers had risen from around 30 to about 42.”

Prior to that realization, the company had targeted changes in adjudication, administration, or motivation to return to work as possible root causes.

“[The age data] changed the focus of the firm's attention from blaming the increase on the insurer, the laws or their workers, to preventing the new and different set of injuries they were seeing and to improving their employees' health and fitness.”

The aging workforce is the number one concern for the Occupational and Environmental Medical Association of Canada. “People are working later than they used to and that presents a new set of challenges about managing the health of the workforce that need to be addressed,” said organization president Danie Gouws.

The trend toward older workforces reflects a broader demographic forecast. The Canadian population is expected to increase by a little more than five million in the next 30 years, with a rise in the segment over age 65 constituting nearly 90% of that growth. “This has implications for the demand for care services, health care, housing and transportation,” Bogyo said.

By Leo Almazora
 
 
 

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