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Ergonomics and the Aging Workforce

Thursday, April 07, 2011
By Anne Kramer

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by the year 2030, 24% – nearly 1 in 4 – Americans will be over the age of 65. When compared to figures from 2000, when just over 15% of the population could be considered "senior citizens," these numbers are staggering. This impending growth begs the question "what will happen to our workforce?" Certainly, with just over 83 million of our 307 million person population not counted as part of the workforce (over half of whom are students, or otherwise NOT retired persons), this increase in the elderly will have real effects on the mean age of the labor pool. Faced with this reality, it seems prudent to consider how best to accommodate these workers – not just for their sake, but ours as well.

As with any employee or work situation, an important deliberation for aging laborers ought to be the incorporation into their daily lives of ergonomic principles. Both in the workplace and out, acting “ergonomically” can avoid injury, increase efficiency, and reduce mental stress. For this reason, we’ve compiled a short list of “ergo-hints” designed to help senior citizens ergo-safe throughout their daily lives.

  1. Take Breaks: Thought by many to be the “golden rule” of ergonomics, taking regular pauses throughout the work day can prevent a slew of repetitive stress injuries, as well as give you time to collect your thoughts, and approach your task with a sense of physical and mental refreshment. Depending on the type of work being performed, a good rule of thumb is to take a 5-minute break every hour.
  2. Design Your Workspace: - ergonomically, that is. Simply, and most generally put, this means making the area in which you work as productive as possible. Examples for an office worker include using appropriate lighting or writing utensils for the task at hand. While these may seem like elementary suggestions, their importance in making the office worker as productive as possible should not be overlooked.
    For more physical laborers, or for those who spend more time on their feet, consider a softer flooring material, or an anti-fatigue mat. This can reduce physical strain, which makes both for a happier worker and one that requires less long-term “downtime.” If this is not possible, make sure to invest in quality footwear that provides extra support. Another option is to slip on a pair of ErgoMates. ErgoMates can be slipped on over existing footwear, adding extra matting in order to reduce fatigue.
  3. Work Smarter, NOT Harder: This is ESPECIALLY important for the aging worker. Efficiency is the name of the game when it comes to ergonomics. Consider the daily responsibilities of the worker. Is there any way in which time, effort, or strain could be reduced? Is it possible to re-assign work flow so as to make the most of collective labor hours?

Again, this is just a short list of ergonomic suggestions; there are certainly more that could and should be considered when planning the workday of a senior citizen. As the workforce cruises into late-adulthood, being especially ergonomically-minded will become increasingly important to the labor force.

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