Unhealthy and aging workers present unique challenges for risk
managers, safety, healthcare, and benefits professionals. The goal is to assist in the
prevention of diminishing productivity while bolstering employee wellness and
There is a tremendous, untapped opportunity for organizations
to address the health and well-being of aging workers. In a study conducted by Ohio State
University (Bacha 2017), researchers identified an average of $436,314 in
avoidable healthcare costs at each location for each Fortune 100 company that
participated in the study. Additionally, Fortune magazine estimated that only 7 percent of US companies possess
a compressive plan to encourage employees to live a healthier lifestyle.
Younger Workers Show Declining Health
Ageonomics™ is defined as the scientific
discipline concerned with understanding the interactions among aging humans and
other elements of a system and applies theoretical principles, data, and methods to
optimize the aging human's well-being and overall performance. Source: Responding to the Needs
of an Aging Workforce, Aon, April 2014.
According to Aon ergonomist and Ageonomics professional Vicki
Missar, a review of key data points indicates a general health decline in the
workforce. From a scientific perspective on aging, human strength peaks at age 25
while bone mass peaks around 30 years of age. After the age of 25, the body slows
its recovery from consenescence, or the aging process. Aon's internal health and
benefits database shows that younger workers are entering the workplace with at
least one comorbidity. This, combined with scientific data, demonstrates the need to
expand the model and include workers ages 25 and older into Ageonomics programs. Ms.
Missar points to additional scholarship to support this argument.
According to a study by Barkin (et al. 2010), as Millennials
enter the workforce, the growing prevalence of obesity among their generation may
negatively impact their productivity and resulting economic prosperity. For example,
the Center for Disease Control (CDC) noted in the total US population that 22.7
percent of adults have arthritis, and arthritis is even more common among people
with other chronic conditions. The CDC found that adults who were obese, had
diabetes, or heart disease were approximately 1.5, 1.7, and 1.9 times more likely
than those without the corresponding condition to have arthritis,
The research strongly indicates that the
younger workforce appears to have many of the comorbidities of our aging workers
(defined as those aged 45 and older). By incorporating workers 25 years and older
into the traditional aging workforce program, organizations can implement a more
fluid and cohesive approach that addresses aging issues earlier—ultimately creating
a solid foundation for a safer, healthier population in the future.
Table 1. Research Indicates Negative Impacts on Health
Data can be overwhelming, but it can also tell a convincing story.
When thinking about aging worker strategies, success is dependent on expanding
traditional reporting models beyond siloed injury data, absenteeism data, and
Occupational Safety and Health Administration logs. Without comprehensive and
concrete data that show where injuries are occurring and where productivity is
lagging due to aging factors, there is limited rationale for leadership to invest in
advanced mitigation strategies that would likely benefit the organization over the
Ms. Missar adds that, without integrating core
workforce population health data to support and identify the scope of the problem, a
company's wellness (or well-being) program may be missing a profound opportunity to
tell the story as it is. That profound story, in and of itself, is the overall
health of the population. Diabetes, arthritis, hypertension, and obesity are the
most common comorbidities in aging workers, and these workers may be struggling with
productivity in a system that is void of safe, effective, and sustainable safety and
health programs. Pharmacy data, health data, absenteeism data, 401k participation,
engagement data, and biometric screening data are all critical factors in telling
the tale of the true total cost of risk (TCOR).
Responding to this issue will require the company's senior leaders
to partner with its human resources, risk management, safety, and wellness
representatives. Armed with the right data and analytics, organizations can rethink
how wellness dollars are spent and reassess how much financial investment is needed
to create an age-friendly work environment that also responds proactively to worker
complaints and injuries.
Renew Your Efforts
Refreshing the data and creating unified, collectively managed
metrics is also fundamental for overall success. For example, organizations can
leverage new approaches to data, such as aligning with the Center for Safety and
Health Sustainability (CSHS). This organization advocates for including human
capital metrics in annual 10-K reports and encourages organizations to elevate
safety and health programs. Through comprehensive and strategic initiatives, real
and impactful change can occur. These initiatives could include the following.
Age-related incidences, cost leakage, lost productivity, and
Prescriptive wellness programs based on workforce health
data and insights
Physical demands assessment for jobs performed
Americans with Disabilities Act compliant disability
management and interactive process guidelines
Workplace stretching programs
Executive steering committee for Ageonomics
Environmental excellence (e.g., 5S)
Ergonomic risk-factor reduction
Workplace design for aging workers
Post-complaint/injury job coaching
Employee surveys for early recognition of workplace
Continual TCOR measurements to monitor program impact
Aging Workforce Is Not Temporary
The age shift in the US workforce is not a temporary phenomenon.
The median age in many labor-intensive industries is projected to rise over the next
20 years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the labor force will continue
to age, with the average annual growth rate of the 55 years and older group
projected to be 1.8 percent—more than three times the rate of growth of the overall
labor force. By 2024, the median age of US workers is expected to be 42.4 years
Age is not just a number. If the aging workforce
is struggling with its own health, an integrated safety and health program is
paramount to the success of the company. Forward-thinking organizations that embrace
strategies fueled by data-driven insights will ultimately reduce risk and increase
worker health and well-being.
Ageonomics™ is a registered trademark of Aon.
The author would like to acknowledge
and thank coauthor Vicki Missar, my colleague and ergonomist and Ageonomics™
professional, for her insights, collaboration, and research on this topic.
Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI.
Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion.
If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.