Be Aware of the Link Between Age and Workplace Injuries

When it comes to workplace safety, there’s a multitude of factors that both employees and managers/supervisors need to consider, as noted in the August 2020 article, “Safety First, Last and Always.” No one wants to think about how old they are, but the fact of the matter is that age can correlate with a higher risk of injury in the workplace.

For example, younger workers are at increased risk for occupational injuries because of lack of training, limited job knowledge or experience and lack of skills. However, the more senior worker also poses some predispositions to occupational injuries. Raising your awareness of possible health conditions that can lead to injury is an important step in creating a culture that prioritizes safety.

Aging causes general atrophy of muscles, which leads to a gradual decrease in muscle tone and mass. Lifting, pushing or pulling may be challenging responsibilities, predisposing an employee to muscle strain in both the upper and lower body. Bone conditions, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and degenerative joint disease, are also problematic because they can lead to stressfractures, which result from the inability of the bone to withstand repeated trauma. Major sources of foot trauma, for example, include overuse, poor shock absorption, and the hard, unyielding surfaces of a kitchen floor. While there are contributing factors that might raise a risk for osteoporosis (cigarette smoking, excessive caffeine intake, inadequate physical activity, sedentary lifestyle, estrogen deficiency and low calcium intake), one aspect you can address is a requirement of shock-absorbing footwear. Good shoes are essential to reducing foot trauma!

Changes to the aging eye can result in distorted depth perception, potentially causing risk for slips and falls on all levels. These changes can also cause susceptibility to glare from lights or reflection from stainless steel equipment. Hearing problems and/or use of a hearing aid may cause distortion in the perception of sound. An employee may not hear very well or may have a sensitivity to loud noises, which contributes to stress in the workplace.

Medical issues such as diabetes may contribute to neuropathy, which means damage to the nerves. An employee who suffers from neuropathy may not respond as quickly to extremes of heat and cold causing burns or frostbite. Loss of sensation in the hands may cause more force exerted on knives, leading to carpal tunnel syndrome or other cumulative trauma, while the loss of sensation in the lower extremities may contribute to slipping, tripping or falling. Smokers may have a loss of sensation in their hands and lower extremities because of poor venous flow due to constriction of vessels from nicotine.

Finally, as a person ages, their skin thins out, loses elasticity, becomes dry and circulation decreases. Workers become more susceptible to the cold of refrigerators, freezers and fans, and skin can become damaged if workers do not have proper insulation, such as freezer jackets and gloves.

All school nutrition workers—whether older, younger or in between—are valuable. Be aware of extra risks for injury, no matter what the reason, to protect the valuable skills each person provides. 

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