Older Workers: Safe and Productive in Today’s Workforce


Elderly Woman Worker

With limited resources for personnel, employers often have to decide between hiring young workers or retaining veteran employees.  Young minds and bodies are attractive hires, but older workers have a lifetime of skills and institutional knowledge.  In fact, research shows that older employees are as productive as younger ones and that personnel managers find older workers to be more reliable and have a stronger work ethic.

Keeping Older Workers Safe

The reality is that we all change physically, psychologically, and emotionally as we age. Without adjustments in jobs, these changes can lead to work-related injuries. While older workers are less likely to get injured on the job, they take longer to return to work when they do get hurt.

To keep their older workers safe and productive, employers need to make changes in their wor
kplaces. As the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) put it: “If employers are to reap the benefits of the work ethic and experience of older workers, they must design the workplace of the future to meet their needs.”

Designing Workplaces for Older Workers

Following are accommodations employers can make to help older employees remain safe and productive members of the workforce.

  • Vision. Age-related changes in vision are common. Brighter lighting and larger video displays are simple accommodations. Automaker BMW has added larger computer screens with bigger type in an assembly plant.
  • Hearing. Age-related changes in hearing are also common. Reducing noise levels makes it easier to hear conversations. Voice-to-text services–including captioning for conventions, webinars, meetings, and trainings—enable employees with hearing loss to participate in work programs that rely on audio communication. Telephones with volume adjustments and both visual and auditory warnings (fire alarms, emergency alarms, etc.) make work easier and safer for workers with hearing loss.
  • Standing. Static standing is tiring, especially for older workers. Sit-stand alternatives allow workers to change their positions while continuing to do their work. BMW has added chairs to assembly lines to allow older workers to do their jobs while seated.
  •  Falls. Older workers have a higher incidence of falls than younger workers. Skid-resistant material on flooring and stair treads reduce fall hazards.
  • Lifting.  To prevent back injuries, do not assign older workers tasks that involve heavy lifting and/or provide mechanical lifting equipment.  Mechanical patient lifting devices have been shown to reduce back injuries among nurses’ aids.
  • New tasks. Research shows that older workers can learn new tasks, but they may need more time and different types of training. They need more time to practice and learn new tasks plus training that addresses a variety of learning styles.
  • Work schedules. Part-time and/or alternative scheduling appeals to older workers. Retailer L.L. Bean attracts older workers with its highly flexible scheduling.