The demographics are clear: the Canadian workforce is aging and older workers are making up a greater portion of the workforce. With the large number of 'baby boomers' born after World War Two now aging, it is estimated that by next year, approximately 41% of the working population will be between the ages of 45 and 64 (up from 29% in 1991), and this percentage will continue to increase over the coming years.
What does this mean for employers?
With a large part of the workforce being middle aged or older there is an immediate need to understand and address the issues of this quickly growing group of workers, to keep them healthy and safe at work. In addition, employers could face a labour and skills shortage with the loss of older workers through early retirement, and fewer people entering the workforce. For employers to meet their labour needs, it is important to retain their skilled older workers. Accommodating the needs of those older workers can play a key role in that retention.
Impact of aging on workers
The impacts of aging on a worker are as varied as the individual who is aging. Generally, older workers may experience physical, sensory and cognitive changes that can accompany aging. On the other hand, they may also accumulate experience, knowledge, and insight as they age, making them a valuable resource for their organization.
In general, while older workers may work slower or make decisions less quickly, they tend to be more accurate in their work and make better decisions. Studies report that older workers generally have lower turnover, more dedication to the workplace, and positive work values.
Older workers also tend to have fewer injuries, but when they do get hurt, their injuries are often more severe and may take longer to heal. Younger workers tend to get more eye or hand injuries, while, in general, older workers who have been working for many years report more back injuries. Many workplace injuries are related to repetitive motion injuries that develop over time. An older worker who has been working longer may report more musculoskeletal injuries since the condition has had more time to develop.
There is a risk for injury when anyone, regardless of their age, is pushed to work harder than they safely can, which underscores the importance of preventing illness and injury in the first place.
Today's older population, besides experiencing personal and health issues that can come with age, may face additional challenges, including evolving family responsibilities as they care for their families, spouses and elderly parents.
How to accommodate an aging workforce
A well-designed workplace that matches workstations and job tasks to the needs of the individual employee benefits all workers, not just those who are older.
- Adapt the work environment to better meet the needs and comfort levels of older workers by considering lighting, heat, and ergonomics.
- Adjust workstations and match job tasks to the needs of the employee taking into account the physical capabilities and limitations of individual workers.
- Offer flexible work arrangements such as job sharing, flexible hours, part time jobs, the option to work from home and other kinds of reduced work schedules to help workers better balance their responsibilities at work and at home.
- Design and provide appropriate training programs to help older workers learn, keeping in mind that training may have to be more "practical". Older workers may take longer to train and may also need more assistance or practice than younger workers.
- Stimulate employees' interests and creativity in their work by broadening the range of work experience. Workplaces can draw on employees' years of experience by encouraging them to mentor younger workers or facilitate training of other older workers.
- Provide workplace wellness programs that give workers access to services such as Employee Assistance, fitness, and nutrition programs.
By taking steps now to help all workers stay safe and healthy at work as they age, and addressing the immediate needs of older workers, employers will benefit from an experienced, dedicated pool of employees. Most importantly, the workers can work in an environment that meets their changing needs and enables them to work comfortably and safely.
Aging Workers, OSH Answers
Aging Workforce Challenges, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada
Tips & Tools
The worker standing on a production line, the nurse working in a clinic and the student landscaping all work in vastly different fields - and all share something in common: hazards. In Canada, employers are responsible for assessing the health and safety risks of a job and for putting measures in place to ensure the safety of their workers.
Job safety analysis (JSA) is an important part of that process. It focuses on the relationship between the worker, the task, the tools, and the work environment, and tries to identify hazards before they occur.
The JSA process starts with selecting the job to be analyzed. There are several questions that need to be considered when selecting the job, such as:
- Where do accidents occur most frequently?
- Are the consequences of an accident, hazardous condition or exposure to a harmful substance potentially severe?
- Is this a newly created job?
- Has a job recently been modified?
- What are the non-routine or infrequently performed jobs?
After the specific job has been selected, a JSA is conducted following these three steps:
1. Break it down
Break the job into steps or tasks noting what is done for each, rather than how it is done. Most tasks can be summarized in less than 10 steps. These steps should be kept in their correct sequence as any step out of order may miss serious potential hazards or introduce hazards that do not actually exist.
2. Identify hazards
Carefully analyze each task of the job and list the potential health and safety hazards for each based on your observations of the job, knowledge of accident and injury causes, and work experience. Seek the input of the workers who have experience in that job.
3. Determine preventive measures
The final stage in a JSA is to determine practical ways to prevent or control the hazards that have been identified:
- Eliminate or contain the hazard by choosing a different process, modifying an existing process, improving the environment or changing the hazardous substance or tools being used. If the hazard cannot be eliminated, contain the hazard and avoid contact by using enclosures, machine guards, worker booths, or similar devices.
- Modify hazardous work procedures. Change the sequence of steps or add additional steps to the job process.
- Reduce exposure. These measures are the least effective and should only be used if no other solutions are possible. For example, you can minimize some exposure by providing personal protective equipment. To reduce the severity of an accident, provide emergency facilities such as eyewash stations.
Workers performing the job as well as the supervisor and a representative from the health and safety committee should be involved in conducting the JSA. The more skill and years experience applied to identifying hazards in a job, the safer the job and the employees will be.
Learn more about Job Safety Analysis from OSH Answers or from the Job Safety Analysis Made Simple guide.
In Ontario between 2005 and 2009, almost 40 per cent of workers who died in work-related incidents were construction workers. Ninety-seven workers died in construction-related incidents, and 999 workers were seriously injured. Although the lost-time injury rate of Ontario's construction workers is one of the lowest in Canada - 1.37 per 100 workers - the province is taking action to improve worker safety in this sector. These measures include increasing enforcement of regulations and enhancing awareness of safety measures, including those related to fall prevention.
To launch the initiative, the province ran an awareness campaign during July and August in major Ontario cities that have the highest summer construction activity (Toronto, Ottawa, London, and Hamilton). Newspaper advertising included construction safety messages in the key ethnic languages spoken in Ontario's construction sector - English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, Polish, Turkish, Serbo-Croatian and Chinese. Tip sheets were made available in these languages for workers and supervisors and were posted on the ministry's website www.ontario.ca/ConstructionSafety.
In addition and as part of the effort to improve safety on construction sites, the province is implementing new measures including:
- Strong enforcement measures that target repeat offenders and shut down construction projects when workers' lives are in danger
- Increased focus on training and worker supervision during inspections
- A public campaign with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and the Infrastructure Health & Safety Association (including the Construction Safety Association of Ontario) to increase awareness of construction site hazards and appropriate safety measures (information is being provided in a wide range of languages in addition to English and French)
- A toll-free telephone line (1-877-202-0008) for workers and the general public to report worksite practices and conditions that appear unsafe.
Many fall prevention violations
During a three-month enforcement blitz last winter of more than 2,800 construction sites across Ontario, Ministry of Labour inspectors found many violations related to missing or inappropriate use of guardrails, scaffolding and fall protection systems. The blitz was in response to a recent spate of fall-related injuries and deaths of construction workers, including four deaths and a severe injury arising from the collapse of a swing-stage in December 2009.
Ministry inspectors are stressing a "hierarchy of fall protection": guardrails first, then travel restraint (e.g., tethers) and, only as a last resort, fall arrest systems.
As the ministry acquires knowledge of potential fall hazards it is issuing warnings and alerts and advising on safe work practices to help prevent worker injuries.
Visit the Construction Safety site, Ontario Ministry of Labour.
Occupational health and safety (OH&S) programs - every workplace should have one, and in most Canadian jurisdictions, they are required. An effective health and safety program provides a clear set of guidelines for activities that, if followed diligently, can reduce injuries and illnesses in the workplace.
The key to the success of the program is the manner in which it is implemented and maintained. To help you get started, CCOHS has developed a 134-page manual, Implementing a Health and Safety (OH&S) Program. This publication provides essential information, sample policies, procedures, checklists and guidance on the development, maintenance, and continual improvement of an OH&S program. You can use and customise the materials provided to create a program specific for your workplace.
Anyone who is committed to creating a healthy and safe workplace can benefit from Implementing a Health and Safety (OH&S) Program, including employers, owners, managers - and the organization as a whole. It can help organizations of any size to create an OH&S program with emphasis on effectiveness, compliance, diligence, and documentation, as well as to use their hazard assessments to prevent or reduce hazards and risks to employees. Lastly it will assist you in monitoring and improving your OH&S program.
It is important to note that the information in this publication is based on best practice principles and techniques and is intended to provide guidance, rather than prescribe specific requirements. It is not intended as a legal interpretation of any federal, provincial or territorial legislation.
Ultimately an effective OH&S program can reduce workplace fatalities, illnesses and injuries and foster a workplace culture of prevention and awareness towards health and safety issues.
Find more information about Implementing a Health and Safety (OH&S) Program, including pricing and ordering.
Get moving for Canada's Healthy Workplace Month® this October. Now is the time to start planning how you and your organization will participate in introducing workplace health to your workplace, or strengthening your commitment if you're already on your way.
For ideas or inspiration, CCOHS has produced a ten minute podcast. Stan Murray of the National Quality Institute (NQI) and Laurie Tirone of CCOHS talk about the importance of healthy workplaces and how you and your organization can help create a culture of health and total well-being at work.
Also, CCOHS will once again be running free webinars in celebration of Healthy Workplace Month. This year's presentation topics include healthy eating and active living. Registration for the webinars will be opening soon.
Listen to the 10 minute podcast.
Find out more about Canada's Healthy Workplaces Month.
Watch here for information about the webinars and registration.
You can see a complete listing of all podcasts on the CCOHS website.
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2017, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
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