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Posted in on Tue, Oct 30, 2007

Des Plaines, IL (October 30, 2007) —
DES PLAINES, IL (October 30, 2007) – The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) suggest businesses design their workplaces for an aging workforce as those born between 1946 and 1964, the ‘baby boomer’ generation, ages and continues to swell while the labor pool shrinks. ASSE believes businesses should begin designing systems and processes which enable older workers to maximize productivity and minimize potential error rates.

“To accommodate the aging workforce and to work to reduce fatality rates, businesses should design a safe workplace for this large aging and valuable workforce,” ASSE member Joel Haight, Ph.D, P.E., CSP, CIH, and associate professor of Energy and Mineral Engineering at Penn State University, said. “If not they could be faced with a negative economic impact.”

The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) workplace statistics for 2004 show that those 64 and older had the lowest number of workplace injuries, but the fatality rate for those 55 and older rose by 10 percent. In 2003, workers 65 and older ‘continued to record the highest fatality rate of any other age group, more than three times the rate of fatalities for those aged 25-34,’ according to the DOL. Most of these fatalities were transportation-related and from falls, from being struck by an object and from workplace homicides.

As baby boomers begin to retire over the next few years, the DOL notes the workforce will shrink as those born from 1965 to 1985, a time with a declining birthrate, enter the workforce. According to American Demographics magazine, currently there are 76.9 million baby boomers in the U.S. The majority of boomers live in California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Addressing this issue, ASSE will be host to a ‘Designing for an Aging Workforce’ Webinar Wednesday, October 31, from 11 a.m. until -12:30 p.m. CST. Dr. Haight will be the presenter and will discuss how physical and cognitive capacity losses affect productivity and injury rates in the aging workforce; the many safety-related questions still open; and the question as to whether designing a work space to accommodate age-related capacity losses in older workers actually help minimize age-induced error rates and increase productivity.

Most experts agree that despite the aging process and its risks, older workers are not likely to take it easy on the job. Even though older workers face additional obstacles to performing their job, they bring experience and knowledge and an excellent work ethic to the job making them a valuable part of the work force, experts note.

Knowing that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, the following are suggestions from ASSE members that can increase workplace safety for an aging workforce:
· Improve illumination, add color contrast
· Eliminate heavy lifts, elevated work from ladders and long reaches
· Design work floors and platforms with smooth and solid decking while still allowing some cushioning
· Reduce static standing time
· Remove clutter from control panels and computer screens and use large video displays
· Reduce noise levels
· Install chain actuators for valve hand wheels, damper levers or other similar control devices – this brings the control manipulation to ground level – helps reduce falls
· Install skid resistant material for flooring and especially for stair treads – helps reduce falls
· Install shallow-angle stairways in place of ladders when space permits and where any daily elevated access is needed to complete a task – helps reduce falls
· Utilize hands free volume adjustable telephone equipment
· Increase task rotation which will reduce the strain of repetitive motion
· Lower sound system pitches, such as on alarm systems, as they tend to be easier to hear
· Lengthen time requirements between steps in a task
· Increase the time allowed for making decisions
· Consider necessary reaction time when assigning older workers to tasks
· Provide opportunities for practice and time to develop task familiarity
“Implementing these changes would not only help older workers, but would benefit all workers,” Dr. Haight said.

Founded in 1911, the Des Plaines, IL-based ASSE is the largest and oldest professional safety organization and is committed to protecting people, property and the environment. Its more than 31,000 members manage, supervise, research and consult on safety, health, transportation and environmental issues in all industries, government, labor and education. Go to for more information and to sign up for the Webinar contact the ASSE Customer Service Department at 847-699-2929.

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Contact: Diane Hurns, 847-768-3413,

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