Managing the Risk of an Aging Workforce
5/7/2012 10:18:00 AM
After the economy, risk management of the aging U.S. workforce is currently the number one 1 issue facing the manufacturing industry. Since many employees will need to work up to 10 years longer than their predecessors, manufacturers must address how to effectively accommodate the physically changing needs of aging workers to ensure that productivity, efficiency and quality levels remain high.
The U.S. Census Bureau's current statistics tell the story. By 2020, the number of people between the ages of 35 and 44 will decrease by 10 percent; individuals between the ages of 45 and 54 will grow by 3 percent; people between 55 and 64 years of age will increase by 73 percent; and those at least 65 years or older will climb by 54 percent.1
It's no surprise that older workers tend to experience more physical problems than theiryounger counterparts. For example, by the time a man reaches the age of 57, he will have lost more than 20 percent of his strength.
But there are also financial consequences of an aging workforce. Consider statistics released by CNA, a global insurance carrier. Some findings are startling. For instance, 25 percent of manufacturing workers' compensation claims occurred to employees over the age of 50. CNA claim data shows that the average cost for an injury of an employee between the ages of 55 and 60 is nearly three times greater than for employees between the ages of 20 and 25. Likewise, employees over the age of 55 are 12 to 35 percent less likely to return to work than theirpeers aged 25 to 39.
Senior executives need to spearhead solutions to avoid out-of-control health care costs and enhance employee productivity at all ages. Even one injured employee can have an adverse effect on a manufacturer's operations.
Many manufacturing jobs were designed years ago, when WWII soldiers were returning home. The jobs often required these young, healthy employees to move, walk, bend, lift, push and pull.
Despite technological advancements, the same jobs may still require employees, who are on average mucholder now, to perform the same manual tasks. More than half (52 percent) of employees in manufacturing today routinely perform manual tasks. The average employee bends over approximately 35,000 times per year. Injuries regarding low back pain, as well as increased cumulative trauma to the shoulders and legs, increases when employees lift loads greater than 35 pounds.
Ideally, employers must design jobs so that 90 percent of the labor force can perform the physical requirements of the tasks without stress. However, many manufacturers don't have a long-term business plan for their aging workforce. But the more they avoid it, the more stress will be placed on their bottom line.
First, manufacturers need to develop a return-to-work (RTW) program. Without one, companies can expect to pay higher claim costs as much as 35 percent higher than employers with a RTW program.
- Drive change within your culture. Senior executives must develop a culture to accommodate the changing physical needs of aging workers. But it won't happen overnight. Encourage employees to speakup when an accommodation is needed. This is an ongoing process, which may take several years to implement before the goal is achieved.
- Minimize the number of times employees bend and lift. Most items in manufacturing plants are either on the floor or stacked on pallets.
Remove as many materials, finished goods andtools off the floor as possible. Ideally, objects should be placed a minimum of 24 inches off the ground. The more items moved off the floor, the more reductions in employee injuries.