Companies make effort to keep older workers safe
When managers at Bon Secours Virginia Health System started analyzing worker’s compensation cases, they noticed a bad combination: Lifting heavy and sicker patients was taking a toll on older nurses.
“We saw an increase in back injuries and older workers were more likely to suffer from those injuries,” said Jim Godwin, vice president of human resources. “Not only that but we thought if we can keep workers from sustaining (back) injuries when they are younger, they can continue working longer.”
The company put into place a new protocol for moving patients.
Nurses can now call in a “patient mobility team” to help.
Jacquelyn James, co-director of the Center on Aging & Work at Boston College, said there’s a recognition among employers such as Richmondbased Bon Secours Virginia Health System that the workforce is aging.
“That’s what’s driving the change right now,” she said. “Changes are needed. These workers are staying in their jobs.”
The U.S. government estimates that by 2024, older workers will account for a quarter of the labor market.
So companies such as Bon Secours Richmond Health System, a faithbased nonprofit health care system that manages several hospitals, are taking steps to make their workplace safer for older workers. About one-quarter of Bon Secours’ 13,000 workers are 50 or older, Godwin said.
“There is a chronic shortage of health care professionals and that’s been true for the last 30 years since I’ve been working,” he said. “We had to get innovative with ways to keep our positions filled.”
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health said there are a variety of accommodations that employers can make to create a safer and more conducive work environment for older employees. Among its recommendations:
• Flexibility on the job. NIOSH says this includes schedules, location and tasks, among other things.
• Creating a work environment that lets people move rather than stay sedentary all day. That can include providing sit/ stand work stations or onsite physical activity.
• Manage noise, slip or trip and other physical hazards.
• Ensure that the work environment is ergonomically friendly. That could include workstations, seating, flooring and lighting.
•Use teams and team work to problem solve.
• Promote healthy lifestyles and “accommodate medical self-care in the workplace and time away for health visits.”