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In Canada, life expectancy is high, birth rates are declining, and the Boomer generation is aging. On the other hand, the age distribution in the workforce and the size of the retired population are both growing. From 1996 to 2018, the proportion of workers in Canada aged 55 and older increased from 10% to 21%. This shift is affecting all occupations, though there are differences in the extent and pace of aging in various sectors. The number of older workers who work part-time or have other flexible work arrangements is also on the rise.
Understanding challenges for older workers
Some studies show that older workers tend to have fewer accidents and work-related injuries, but when they do get injured, they may take longer to recover. Repetitive motion injuries, for example, develop over time, so an older worker may report more musculoskeletal injuries since they've had more time for the condition to develop. When the physical demands of the job exceed the capabilities of the worker, regardless of age, there is a risk for injury.
Changes in mental capacity may also occur as a person ages. Older people may not think as quickly and clearly as they once did. Also, it may take longer to learn new skills. Fluid intelligence (inductive reasoning, selective attention, 'dual-task' activities, and information processing) generally declines with age, while verbal tasks and vocabulary (talking and expressing themselves) remain constant or improve.
Tasks that depend on short-term memory usually take longer for older workers, who tend to use experience and expertise when working. They may also find it hard to perform tasks in which they have to do (or think) a lot of different things quickly or at one time. It may be more challenging to work in a busy environment where lots is going on. They may be less able to focus attention only on information relevant to the task at hand, especially in new situations. There may be so much going on that they aren't sure what to prioritize, what to pay attention to, and what to ignore.
Benefits of older workers
Though older workers may require some accommodation to do their jobs safely and thrive in their roles, making those adjustments can yield benefits for the entire workplace. In addition to bringing a broader range of perspectives, older workers tend to have a deep well of experience to draw from. When their training or probation is complete, they may require less supervision than their younger coworkers.
Given that older workers tend to be loyal to one employer and are less likely to change jobs as frequently, they can lower staff turnover and instances of absenteeism in the workplace. They also bring an emotional maturity to their work.
How workplaces can support older workers
Since learning is often based on previous experience, training for older workers may need to have a more practical focus. Explain new skills in a way that fits into what they already know. Justification and the logic behind the information – why you're doing what you're doing – are more important. Training may take longer and may need to be paired with more assistance or practice. Once the learning curve has been reached, several studies show there may not be a difference in how well someone works.
Cognitive functions – how someone learns and thinks – are dependent on the individual and the experiences they have had during their lifetime. People who have had a lot of training or education, or who have had to carry out a variety of tasks, are experienced learners – typically able to learn new skills well and improve the ones they have with ease. People who may be more resistant to learning as an older adult include those who have little formal training or who have carried out relatively simple or repetitive tasks for many years. They are used to doing the same thing, the same way, and may find it harder to take in new information or ways of doing things.
Because older workers tend to require more time to recover when an injury occurs, it's important to consider this in your return-to-work program, and to make reasonable adjustments to their job or workstation to make work as safe as possible.
Regardless of age, set workers up for success by providing a safe work environment that reduces the chance of injury or occupational illness. Have equipment in good working condition, provide thorough and adaptable training, safe work procedures, low chemical and hazard exposure, supportive management styles, and risk assessments that consider aging factors. With a little consideration and good communication, you’ll reap the benefits of a multigenerational workplace.
Tips and Tools
A 2020 Government of Canada survey* revealed that 1 in 3 workers respond to work emails or answer work calls or texts outside of work. This statistic supports recent studies showing that many workers are suffering because they can’t “switch off” from their jobs.
The changing nature of work and an increase in hybrid work arrangements has meant that workers and employers are more connected than ever before, even when they aren’t in a shared physical workplace. Some workers report that there is an expectation that they be readily available to communicate with their employers, even outside of working hours.
Disconnecting from work happens in many ways: at the end of the day, over the weekend or days off, and during vacations. Employers can encourage employees to disconnect by establishing a policy that outlines when and how to disengage from work activities.
Each workplace is unique, and policies should reflect the needs of that workplace.
10 tips for developing a disconnecting from work policy
*Privy Council Office Survey on Current Issues, August 17-30, 2020
More than six million, or 1 in every 3, Canadians combine paid work with providing some level of unpaid care. For these working caregivers, taking on a caring role is like having a whole other job in addition to regular employment and other commitments. Many caregivers are forced to stop working, reduce their work hours, change jobs, or accept lower income to balance their work and care responsibilities.
Organizations can help support their caregiving employees by creating flexible and accommodating workplaces. A new report from Carers Canada and McMaster University, Balancing Work and Care: Experiences of Working Caregivers and Evidence Informing Caregiver Friendly Workplaces, aims to increase awareness of working caregivers and provide suggestions that help to meet the needs of employees balancing paid work and unpaid caregiving responsibilities.
CCOHS releases new podcasts each month to help you stay current and informed on workplace health, safety, and well-being in Canada.
New Podcast: Indigenous Perspectives on Health and Safety
In First Nations communities, several factors are considered before undertaking new health and safety initiatives. Jeff Robert, an Indigenous human resources practitioner, shares his insights in this episode.
Podcast runs: 9:57 Listen to the podcast now
Encore Podcast: A Closer Look at Nonvisible Disabilities
According to the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability, 1 in 5 Canadians between 25-64 years of age have at least one disability. That means there are about 4 million adults experiencing limitations - including physical, chronic pain, cognitive, and mental health issues - many of which are not immediately apparent to others. Accommodating workers with these nonvisible disabilities is not just a legal requirement, but it also makes good business sense.
Podcast runs 5:29 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Occupational health and safety laws are always evolving. This month’s highlights include changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation in British Columbia, Firefighters' Compensation Regulations in Nova Scotia, Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, and the renamed Workplace Health and Safety Regulations in Yukon.
Occupational Health and Safety Regulation (Workers' Compensation Act): B.C. Reg. 116/2022 came into force 22/08/22 and adds new Section 3.12.1 Reassignment of refused work; amends subsection 3.13 (2); repeals and replaces the definitions for "professional engineer", "professional geoscientist" and "qualified registered professional" in Section 1.1; and, makes revisions to remove gendered language throughout.
Firefighters' Compensation Regulations (Workers' Compensation Act): Two amendments are applied. N.S. Reg. 53/2022 came into force 01/07/22 adding to the list of cancers or other diseases presumed to be occupational diseases related to employment as a firefighter, in the table in Section 2. N.S. Reg. 111/2022 came into force 01/07/22 revising the table in Section 2 by removing “15 years” in the row that begins with “Primary site pancreatic cancer” and substituting “10 years”; and removing “15 years” in the row that begins with “Primary site thyroid cancer” and substituting “10 years”.
Occupational Health and Safety Act: Two amendments came into force 01/07/22 and are applied. S.O. 2021, c. 34, Sched. 15 adds the definitions of “engineer” and “professional engineer of the Ministry” and repeals the definition for "engineer of the Ministry" in subsection 1 (1); and, makes revisions to related engineer references throughout. S.O 2022, c. 7, Sched. 4, ss. 2 and 4 add several new subsections to Section 66 Penalties and makes a revision in Section 69 Limitation on prosecutions.
Workplace Health and Safety Regulations (Occupational Health and Safety Act): O.I.C. 2022/118 renames the “Occupational Health and Safety Regulations” to the “Workplace Health and Safety Regulations.” It amends the Regulations to replace references to the Director of Occupational Health and Safety with the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Board, the expression “a safety officer” with “an officer”, and the expression “constructor” with “prime contractor”. It further amends paragraph 16.26(1)(b) referencing cable testing and repeals the definitions of “Director”, “hazard”, and “workplace”. It replaces the expression “occupational injuries and diseases” with “injuries” in section 1.04. References to the “Occupational Health and Safety Act” are replaced with the “Workers’ Safety and Compensation Act”.
For more information regarding recent regulatory changes CCOHS offers a paid subscription service, Canadian enviroOSH Legislation plus Standards, that provides a collection of all the health, safety, and environmental legislation you need in one location.
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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.
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