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Reducing Risk Factors in the Aging Workforce. Cindy Roth Ergonomic Technologies Corp. AGING. Aging is a very different process today than it was a century ago

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Reducing risk factors in the aging workforce

Reducing Risk Factors in the Aging Workforce

Cindy Roth

Ergonomic Technologies Corp.



  • Aging is a very different process today than it was a century ago

  • Medical knowledge and attendant behavioral changes have not only helped increase life expectancy, they have considerably enhanced the quality of life

  • The longevity gains of the 20th century are supported by health reforms and changes in personal behavior

  • More and more people are learning from the example of Eubie Blake, the great jazz musician, who so aptly said when he was 97 or 98 years old, "If I'd have known I'd live this long, I would have taken better care of myself."

Aging workforce


  • So has the notion of "retirement“

  • In most jobs, strength and endurance may not be the requirements

  • The aging work force and the expected labor shortages due to North America’s low birth rate, require that employers, policy makers and workers to come up with creative solutions to allow all seniors the option to remain active in the work force if they so wish



  • Older workers continue to work and retirees return to work for financial reasons, socialization, and wanting to contribute/feel valued

  • However, with personal savings significantly lower than in the past, the most compelling reason to work for older Americans is economic



  • 13% of the population is over 65

  • 25% of the population is over 50, the age of decline

  • In 30 years, the 65+ population will double to 66 million people

Do aging workers need any special accommodations

Do aging workers need any special accommodations?

  • Yes and no (how’s that for an answer)

  • A well-designed work place benefits everyone, young and aging

  • Workstations and job tasks that are matched to the needs of the individual employee are always best

  • Different conditions for different workers may be needed to meet the needs of any employee, not just one that is older

  • However, that being said, there are some things older workers may need to work safely and comfortably

Are there any specific health and safety concerns related to aging workers

Are there any specific health and safety concerns related to aging workers?

  • Most studies say that older workers tend to have fewer accidents, but when an older worker does get injured, their injuries are often more severe

  • They also may take longer to get better

  • The types of injuries can be different

Effects of aging

Effects of Aging

  • Loss of strength

  • Loss of muscular flexibility

  • Loss of joint range of motion

  • Diminished postural steadiness

  • Reduced grip strength

  • Reduced nervous system responses

  • Reduced blood flow and tactile feedback

  • Reduced visual capacity

  • Slowing of mental processing

Aging audio hearing


Decreased high-frequency hearing

Decreased ability to discriminate some sounds


Avoid high-frequency noise

Reduce background noise

Use equipment with adjustable noise levels

Aging Audio…Hearing

Environmental conditions

Environmental Conditions

  • Noise

    • unwanted sound in the workplace

    • may interfere with the ability to concentrate, cause distraction, interfere with communication

    • health risk:

      damage to hearing

Loss of muscle strength


Decreased muscle mass and strength

Increased muscle response time and fatigue


Reduce work with static muscle effort (e.g. sustained positions)

Increase use of mechanical lifts

Keep work in "neutral zone"

Eliminate twisting

Stretch upper body throughout the day

Continue or begin regular exercise programs

Loss of Muscle Strength

Effects of aging1

Effects of Aging

  • Aging muscles

    • As muscles age, they begin to shrink and lose mass

    • This is a natural process, but a sedentary lifestyle can accelerate it

    • The number and size of muscle fibers also decrease

    • It takes muscles longer to respond in our 50s than they did in our 20s

    • The water content of tendons, the cord-like tissues that attach muscles to bones, decreases as we age

    • This makes the tissues stiffer and less able to tolerate stress

Effects of aging2

Effects of Aging

  • Handgrip strength decreases, making it more difficult to accomplish routine activities such as gripping, lifting, turning a valve, opening a jar or pulling tasks

  • The heart muscle becomes less able to propel large quantities of blood quickly to the body

  • We tire more quickly and take longer to recover

  • The body’s metabolic rate (how quickly the body converts food into energy) slows

  • This can lead to obesity and an increase in "bad" cholesterol levels

Effects of aging3

Effects of Aging

  • Aging bones

    • Throughout life, bones constantly change through a process of absorption and formation called "remodeling." As we age, the balance between bone absorption and bone formation changes, resulting in a loss of bone tissue.

    • The mineral content of bones decreases, so that bones become less dense and more fragile.

    • As bones lose mass, osteoporosis develops, affecting both women and men. In the spine, osteoporosis can lead to crush fractures of the vertebrae, resulting in a "dowager’s hump." Osteoporosis is also responsible for almost all hip fractures in older men and women.

Effects of aging4

Effects of Aging

  • The chemistry of cartilage, which provides cushioning between bones, changes

  • With less water content, the cartilage becomes more susceptible to stress

  • As cartilage degenerates, arthritis can develop

  • Ligaments, connective tissues between bones, become less elastic, reducing flexibility

Aging and the back

Aging and the BACK

  • As we grow older, we grow drier

  • All of our joints

  • Our back is at particular risk

  • Discs are 70-90% water

  • Need movement for nutrition in..waste out

  • Cumulative trauma affects quality of life

Effects of aging5

Effects of Aging

  • Aging joints

    • Joint motion becomes more restricted and flexibility decreases with age because of changes in tendons and ligaments

    • As the cushioning cartilage begins to break down from a lifetime of use, joints become inflammed and arthritic

Aging immune system


Decreased inflammatory response

Increased risk of infections


Avoid repetitive-motion work

Take precautions to avoid infection

Aging Immune System

Ageing is a life long process and it s a good idea to think about how healthily you are doing it

"Ageing is a life long process and it's a good idea to think about how healthily you are doing it”

Concerns of aging workers

Concerns of Aging Workers

  • Health and healthcare costs

  • The world in which we work

  • The world in which we will retire

  • “Open borders” has created created more competition, rapid changes (puts premium on ability to adapt)

  • Changes open opportunities

  • Internationalization of production will accentuate need for specialists

  • Use of latest technologies

Ergonomics and the aging

Ergonomics and the Aging

  • Issues:

    • Physical capabilities

    • Mental aptitudes

    • Personality changes

    • Medications

    • Prior injuries/illnesses

    • Prior jobs and tasks

    • “At home” activities over the years

    • Employee genetics

Some employers view of older workers



Commitment to Quality

Low turnover




Not flexible

Difficulty in accepting new technology

Difficulty in learning new skills

Do not possess the ability to perform strenuous tasks

Some Employers’ View of Older Workers

Risk factor potential

Risk Factor Potential

  • Any combination of posture, repetition, force, contact stress, environment, persons’ genetics or vibration will increase risk factor contribution for potential injury

  • This is becomes even greater as we age

Personal risk factors for ctd symptoms




Rheumatoid Arthritis

Hypertensive Heart Disease




Trauma and medication


Personal Risk Factors for CTD Symptoms

Common ctds

Carpal Tunnel syndrome

Cubital Tunnel syndrome

DeQuervaine’s syndrome


Ganglionic Cyst

Trigger finger

Vibration White finger

Neck tension syndrome

Shoulder pain

Back pain



Common CTDs

Don t panic

Don’t Panic

  • There is still hope for us

How to assist postal employees

How to Assist Postal Employees

Some helpful tips from an

“Old One”

Reducing risk factors in the aging workforce

Doctors 'failing' to promote elderly exercise

Older people can benefit from exercise

Doctors have been accused of failing to encourage elderly people to take exercise that would be beneficial for their general health.

Reducing risk factors in the aging workforce

Doctors and often the aging themselves fear that more damage is likely to be done by exercising in old age, or that chronic disease has its roots earlier in life, so there is little point trying to reverse the process

Peak strength of active vs inactive

Peak Strength of Active vs. Inactive

Peak strength of active vs inactive1

Peak Strength of Active vs. Inactive

  • It is apparent that strength training remains highly effective in maintaining muscular strength throughout life

  • After about age 60, strength levels fall more rapidly, independent of training

  • This is probably influenced by marked changes in the hormonal production

  • Both testosterone and growth hormone appear to decline more dramatically after about age 60

  • The decreased strength is due to atrophy of muscle fibers. It is important to notice that with strength training, the maximal strength of a 60 year old can exceed that of his untrained sons!

  • Several studies have demonstrated that strength gains are possible even into the 90s

  • So it is never too late to begin a strength training program!

Countering the effects

Countering the Effects

  • Long-term regular exercises may slow the loss of muscle mass and prevent age-associated increases in body fat

  • Exercise also helps maintain the body’s response time, as well as its ability to deliver and use oxygen efficiently

  • Just 30 minutes of moderate activity, incorporated into your daily routine, can provide health benefits.

  • An exercise program doesn’t have to be strenuous to be effective

  • Walking, square dancing, swimming and bicycling are all recommended activities for maintaining fitness into old age

  • The 30 minutes of moderate activity can be broken up into shorter periods; you might spend 15 minutes working in the garden in the morning and 15 minutes walking in the afternoon

  • It all adds up

Assist your employees thru knowledge

Assist Your Employees Thru Knowledge

  • During this century, the average number of hours people spend asleep per night in more developed countries has decreased from nine hours to 7.5 hours

  • The change has been made to accommodate increased demands of work and more leisure activities

  • Millions of shift workers average less than 5 hours of sleep per day

Reducing risk factors in the aging workforce

Lack of sleep may speed aging process

Lack of sleep can cause chemical changes in the body

Sleep deprivation has a similar impact on the body to the aging process and may increase the severity of age-related chronic disorders such as heart disease and diabetes, researchers have found

Assist your employees thru knowledge1

Assist Your Employees Thru Knowledge

"We suspect that chronic sleep loss may not only hasten the onset, but could also increase the severity of age-related ailments such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and memory loss."

  • US Department of Medicine in Chicago

Reducing risk factors in the aging workforce

About 1/2 all of smokers between of 35 and 69 die ahead of time but the new smokers replace them

Smokers could be losing an average of 20 to 25 years of their life

Everyone knows that smoking effects the heart and the lungs

A new study shows that smoking can further increase diabetics' already high risks of heart disease and blood-clotting problems

Add Osteoporosis, Back Pain, and Fractures to nicotine's Health Threats

Aging and ergonomics

Aging and Ergonomics

  • Educate engineers responsible for:

    • Job designs

    • Equipment designs

    • Tool designs

    • Workflow/ cycle times

    • MMH

    • Anatomy and Physiology

    • Anthropometrics

What contributes to user s muscle effort

What Contributes to User’s Muscle Effort?

  • High trigger efforts > 4 kgs

  • Slick or oily grips

  • Heavy weight tools

  • Oversized air hoses/Couplings on tool

  • Grip diameter too small

  • Poor gloves

  • Poor equipment maintenance

  • Extended static postures

  • Repetitive motions

  • Forceful tasks

  • Lifing heavy objects

  • Pushing, pulling, lowering, carrying

Reducing risk factors in the aging workforce

Posture and Strength

Extension 45 degrees

75% of Grip Strength

Neutral 0 degrees

100% of Grip Strength

Flexion 45 degrees

45% of Grip Strength

Posture and the hand grasp postures and strength

Posture and the HandGrasp Postures and Strength

Power grasp = 100% of max grip strength

Pinch grasp = 25% of max grip strength

Aging and ergonomics1

Aging and Ergonomics

  • Educate employees regarding their limitations and capabilities

  • Identify the jobs that are creating the most risk factors for all age groups

  • Re-engineer tasks with highest risk factors

  • Provide administrative alternatives when re-engineering is not doable

Think about ergo

Think about Ergo

  • Risk Factors

  • Root Cause

  • Fixes

  • Training

  • More Training

  • More Fixes

  • All to keep us healthy and happy

Reducing risk factors in the aging workforce

 Ensure to design to prevent twisting and injury potential      



Think about poor postures

Think about poor postures

Reducing risk factors in the aging workforce

Think about your JobsThink about your RecreationThink about your RetirementThink how Aging is assisted by ERRP

Save our wrists

Save our Wrists

Before ERRP

After ERRP

Vacuum nozzle - "bend the tool, not the wrist"!



Save a back shoulder elbow neck

Save a back shoulder elbow neck

Mmh solutions

MMH Solutions


  • From the floor is hard on your aging lumbar spine

  • Use a diagonal foot position, and get as close to the load as possible

  • Keep the load as close to your body as you can when standing up

  • It is easier to move loads that are waist high or off the floor Stacking pallets to raise the height of the load is one ergonomic solution

  • A scissors lift will mechanically raise the load to a comfortable lifting level

  • Repetitive lifting from the floor is particularly risky, so try to get the material off the floor

Equipment position

Equipment Position

  • Proper equipment positioning to limit the employees exposures to:

    • horizontal reaches

    • carrying distances

    • box weights, dimensions

    • stacking heights

Mmh solutions1

MMH Solutions

  • Keep all loads as close to the employee’s center of gravity as possible (midline of the body)

  • Carrying loads on shoulder is safer for long and narrow material which is light weight for short periods and short distances

    • This would include construction material or rolls of carpet

  • When lifting anything with a handle, place a hand on your knee to get additional leverage and use a diagonal foot position

  • Carrying two objects of the same weight will balance the load as long as the weight of the load is reasonable as well as the distance carried

What are some important elements of a workplace layout to save our bodies

What are some Important Elements of a Workplace Layout to save our bodies?

  • Layout or organization of the work area which allows materials to be handled without excessive bending, twisting and stretching reduces injuries

  • Have all materials at work level

  • Use adjustable elements at the workplace

Stay healthy

Stay Healthy

Thank you

Thank you

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