Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Health Experts Say Changes Needed to Ensure Productivity of Aging Workers

New efforts to integrate health protection and health promotion programs in the workplace are needed soon if the nation’s aging workforce is to remain competitive and productive, according to recommendations released this week by two leading U.S. occupational health organizations.

The recommendations, published in the May Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM), summarize results of a two-day, national invitational summit on aging in the workplace, convened last year by ACOEM and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Between 2005 and 2030, the number of Americans 65 and older will almost double – with a significant number continuing to work. By 2015, it is estimated that one in five U.S. workers will be a Baby Boomer. Statistics show that this demographic group reports a higher incidence than earlier generations of chronic disease and other health limitations that can impact work.

Among their key recommendations, summit participants called for greater awareness of aging issues among employers and establishment of a new “culture of health” in the workplace that better integrates safety and wellness programs to ensure workers are able to work productively and in good health throughout their careers. The recommendations call for “age-friendly” programs and policies which will create optimal working conditions for workers in each phase of careers – from the earliest stages through retirement.

As a part of this effort, the recommendations call for incentives in health benefits to encourage more healthy behaviors among employees, the use of new models of “job transitioning” that help employees remain productive even as their capacities for work change, and the use of new standards for measuring the value of companies that would include workforce health as a factor. The recommendations also call for better research-design models to help collect better data on worker health, and for more research on the investment value of health protection and promotion in the workplace.

Participants at the aging summit were comprised of a diverse pool of leaders in health, safety, and business – including corporations, academia, medicine, government, business coalitions, and experts from NIOSH, ACOEM, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The aging of the world’s populations will have many dramatic impacts on society – and among the most significant of them will be the effect on national productivity,” said Ronald Loeppke, MD, ACOEM President, who helped organize the summit. “The good news is that aging workers are a valuable resource that can be engaged for nation’s benefit - but only if we redouble our efforts to keep them healthy over the full span of their careers.”

Older workers can play an invaluable role in the workplace, bringing with them their years of experience and knowledge,” said summit co-organizer and Senior Science Advisor at NIOSH Anita Schill, PhD. “Better integration of health protection and health promotion measures aimed at improving the health of individuals in both the workplace and in the community are needed to help all workers achieve their full potential.”

The summit’s recommendations call for a new multi-generational approach to aging in the workplace that emphasizes worker health from the first day a young person enters the workforce. “This is not about simply trying to keep older workers healthy – it’s about better health for everyone, and creation of a culture in which employers consider health promotion and protection an integral part of their long-term planning for all employees,” said Dr. Loeppke.

ACOEM and NIOSH have announced that they plan additional collaborations in the future on workplace aging, including an extension of the work started with the Summit on Advancing the Health Protection and Promotion of an Aging Workforce.
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