In praise of older workers

Health and safety programs developed to protect younger workers aren’t always designed in a way that will keep older employees safe. 

Photo credit: Quinn Dombrowski on Flickr; Baby Boomer with iPad

Chronologically gifted.

That’s how NIOSH director John Howard referred to aging workers in his statement for Workers Memorial Day 2011.

At first, I laughed at the term – seeing it as a politically correct euphemism to please the American Baby Boomers. But thinking further, I realized it was a clever way to refer to the many positive things that come with age.

In our youth-oriented culture, aging is usually depicted in a very negative way. It’s refreshing to see someone mentioning the positives of it – the “improved workplace wisdom, skills, and knowledge,” as WorkSafe Magazine put it in their cover story on aging workers in their Jan./Feb. 2011 issue.

Yet despite their positive qualities, older workers take longer to recover from injuries than their younger coworkers.

Karren Kossey, a WorkSafeBC occupational hygiene officer in Nanaimo, is quoted in the WSM story.

“Don’t forget that most jobs have been designed for 20- to 30-year-olds,” she says. “And the health and safety programs developed to protect that age group aren’t always enough to keep older employees safe.”

The NIOSH director addresses this concern in his statement: “As more and more chronologically gifted workers are on the job, we must be aware of the unique challenges they face, and design our health and safety interventions accordingly…

“No one should face the prospect of injury, illness, exploitation, or death in earning a paycheck.”

True that, Dr. Howard, and congratulations to NIOSH and OSHA – two American safety institutions that turned 40 on April 28 – Workers Memorial Day or, as we call it in Canada: the National Day of Mourning.


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