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 their younger 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 their peers 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 much older 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 speak up 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.
- Evaluate every job. Redesign jobs so that a woman with decreased physical strength can physically perform the manual tasks. This will lead to higher production, quality and efficiency. Modify workflow and processes to improve employee safety, productivity and efficiency.
- Implement lean processes. One of the seven deadly wastes is unnecessary motion, such as reaching, bending, twisting or walking. Consider that each employee spends almost three seconds to bend. Multiply that by 35,000 times per employee per year. That’s wasted motion, wasted time or simply a non-value added task. At one manufacturing plant, I observed a worker walk 450 feet each time he cut a piece of pipe. This same employee cut approximately 100 pipes daily. How much time was wasted? The accumulative effect can be huge.
- Change the font size and reduce glare. When employees can see clearly, their performance is enhanced. Change the font size on equipment and signs to between 12 and 16 point, and reduce glare around machinery.
- Replace fluorescent lighting in plants. Install full spectrum lighting that has a color-rendering index of 95 or greater. Also, install indirect lighting in offices, which will ensure that everyone can see well. However, if your budget doesn’t allow it, try cleaning your lights. You’ll be amazed at the difference it creates.
While some manufacturers have implemented changes, they fail to measure the before and after outcomes. For example, how many widgets are employees producing each hour? After the lights were cleaned or replaced, how many are they now producin
Without hard data, you won’t have any idea what changes were effective and which ones need to be ongoing, tweaked or even discarded. Without follow through, you’ll be shooting in the dark.
Overall, creating a safe workplace produces a key benefit that all employers strive to achieve — a more healthy, productive and loyal workforce.
Brian Roberts is director of workers’ compensation and ergonomics at CNA.
CNA is the 7th largest U.S. commercial insurer and specializes in business insurance programs for the metal fabrication industry, offering a wide range of services focusing on management accountability, cost drivers, and business solutions to improve your bottom-line. The program is endorsed by the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, Intl.® (FMA), underwritten by CNA, and supported by Norman-Spencer Agency, Inc.
To learn how your company can benefit from an FMA-endorsed program call FMA at 800-394-4362, CNA at 800-262-6241 or Byron Spencer at 800-543-3248.
1 U.S. Census Bureau data as reported in "The Future of Work", presentation by John Howard, July 2, 2009, slide 9.
The information, examples and suggestions presented in this material have been developed from sources believed to be reliable, but they should not be construed as legal or other professional advice. CNA accepts no responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of this material and recommends the consultation with competent legal counsel and/or other professional advisors before applying this material in any particular factual situations. This material is for illustrative purposes and is not intended to constitute a contract. Please remember that only the relevant insurance policy can provide the actual terms, coverages, amounts, conditions and exclusions for an insured. All products and services may not be available in all states and may be subject to change without notice. CNA is a registered trademark of CNA Financial Corporation. Copyright © 2012 CNA. All rights reserved.
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