Aging workforce needs help to prevent falls


Hospitals need to consider the needs of an aging workforce in order to prevent costly workplace injuries. That is the finding of a new study published by the Association of Occupational Health Professionals in Healthcare.

The study, The Aging Healthcare Workforce: Employment and Occupational Injuries Among Workers in US Private Hospitals in 2010, found that during 2010, only 3.17 percent of the hospital workforce was above the traditional retirement age of 65. However, almost 18 percent of the 2010 workforce will reach that milestone by 2020, if the individuals who were employed in hospitals in 2010 remain employed.

Even allowing for recent efforts to recruit new nurses into the healthcare field, it looks likely that the healthcare sector will rely increasingly on older healthcare workers in the coming decades, the study said.

“As such, it will be increasingly important for US hospitals and other employers in the healthcare sector to analyse their workforce demographics and to tailor their employee safety and health programs and policies to support workers of all ages,” say the study’s authors, Ken Scott and Lee Newman – both of whom are from the Colorado School of Public Health’s Center for Worker Health and Environment.

“Our analyses confirm the findings of previous studies of healthcare workers and non-healthcare workers, that slip, trip and fall related injuries on the same level become increasingly common as workers in private US hospitals age,” they continue.

The study also found that younger workers are most likely to experience a occupational injury due to contact with objects or equipment, and that younger healthcare workers are most likely to experience an overexertion injury. Violent injury rates are also higher among younger workers than among older workers, though the rates of injuries due to violent acts and assaults are lower than those of other injury types addressed in the study.

Scott and Newman argue that activities to cut the number of falls among older staff members should focus first and foremost on environmental modifications. In addition to environmental modifications, though, prevention activities that improve balance, core strength and other individual-level risk factors may help. Tai chi, for example, is one type of exercise that has been proven effective at preventing older adults falls.

“While occupational safety and health professionals justifiably prioritize environmental modifications over host-level interventions, efforts to improve workers’ balance and reaction time to reduce their risk of an occupational slip, trip and fall may complement the environmental modifications,” they state.

The authors conclude that enhanced slip, trip and fall prevention activities are warranted as the healthcare workforce ages. Given that other studies show increasing injury severity with age, the cost-effectiveness of preventing injuries may change with increasing age.

“The degree to which an aging workforce impacts a particular employer’s bottom line will be influenced by many factors, some of which are under the control of an organization and some of which are not.

“Regardless, considering that nearly 18 percent of the private US hospital workforce is within 10 years of turning 65, healthcare organizations would be well advised to begin analysing their workforce demographics as well as safety and wellness practices, programs and policies that may keep older hospital workers healthy, safe and productive on the job.”

Association of Occupational Health Professionals in Healthcare, workplace injuries, occupational health, aging workforce