The older your construction workers get, the more vulnerable they'll be to certain types of safety risks and hazards. It’s true that age is usually correlated with both experience and wisdom, giving your older construction workers a critical safety advantage over your younger workers – but age is also a risk factor that needs to be accounted for in your job-site safety strategy.
First, let's address why age is a risk factor on construction job-sites. In some ways, younger people are more vulnerable; they have less knowledge and experience, and may be more likely to take unnecessary risks.
However, there are three major reasons why the older workers on your job-site need additional support and consideration when it comes to safety.
· Physical changes. As we get older, we undergo physical changes that leave us more prone to accidents and injuries. Our bodies get physically weaker, we become less agile and less flexible, and we may start to have difficulty with certain tasks that require coordination. Eyesight deterioration and other sensory problems may also be factors that increase the risk of an accident.
· More serious injuries. Older individuals experience more serious injuries in response to the same accident. A 60-year-old man who falls from a significant height is likely to experience more severe injuries than a 20-year-old man who falls from that same height, all other factors being equal.
· Additional time to heal. As you've gotten older, you've likely noticed that your injuries don't heal as quickly as they used to. When you were a child or teenager, you could bounce back easily from even relatively serious injuries. As an older adult, the healing process is longer and more painful.
How to Keep Older Construction Workers Safe
What strategies can help you keep your older construction workers safe?
· Provide support training. The oldest workers on your job-site may have decades of experience, and they may feel like training is no longer necessary. But even the oldest and most experienced people on your job-site can benefit from additional support training. Provide regular training sessions, education opportunities, and refreshes to make sure everyone on this project understands what it takes to be safe and is willing to follow those protocols.
· Eliminate, then mitigate hazards. As is the case with any other safety topic, your biggest priority should be eliminating hazards. In other words, you want to eliminate situations that carry a risk of producing an accident or injury. Simple actions, like cleaning up spills and avoiding working from heights when possible, can dramatically lower risks for your oldest workers.
· Warm up and stretch. In any physically demanding activity, it’s important for participants to warm up and stretch. Spending even a few minutes warming up your body can make it more limber and flexible, reducing its susceptibility to strenuous injury. Make sure everyone on the team properly warms up before working and stretches at the end of the day (and periodically throughout the day).
· Rotate responsibilities. Doing the same task over and over can lead to injury, especially if this particular task is physically demanding. That's why it's a good idea to rotate responsibilities. Instead of having all your workers focus on individual tasks, have them switch task responsibilities regularly throughout the day. This way, your older workers will have a chance to use their bodies in different ways and avoid repetitive strain injuries.
· Create a return-to-work policy. If one of your older workers is injured on the job, you'll want to have a precisely documented return-to-work policy in place. How is this individual going to return to work? When are they going to be allowed to return to work?
· Encourage older workers to work responsibly. Finally, empower your older workers to take control of their own safety. Encourage them to proactively acknowledge their own physical limitations and avoid pushing past those limitations.
With the help of these strategies, and more thorough safety standards on the job-site, you can keep your older workers (and even most of your younger workers) safer. There's no such thing as a perfectly safe environment, but if you can eliminate a wide range of hazards and provide protection from hazards that can't be eliminated, your workplace will be in a much better, safer position.
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