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Safety Challenges in a Strong Economy

Wednesday, June 19, 2019
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It is hard to find something wrong with a strong economy, but there are a growing number of safety-related challenges associated with the current, robust economic boom. 

One of the most pressing issues is the severe shortage of qualified applicants to fill open positions. The unavoidable, safety-related consequences of a severe labor shortage include:

  • Existing employees work harder to pick up the slack
  • Aging workers are encouraged to stay in the workforce
  • Aging workers may be required to perform physically demanding work
  • Production requirements force many employees work overtime
  • Newly hired candidates are expected to produce more, quickly
  • Newly hired employees are statistically the most likely to be injured at work
  • Pressure to fill jobs quickly leads employers to hire less qualified candidates
  • Some people available for work may be unemployable

New Hires & Younger Workers:

We are currently in a “full-employment” economy. Those who are currently unemployed, in many cases, either do not want to work, or may be considered unemployable. Employers who hire from the pool of individuals considered unemployable, expose themselves to a host of potential problems including workplace injuries, unprofessional conduct, harassment, attendance issues, poor workmanship, and productivity issues. 

At least 40% of injuries in the workplace involve employees on the job for less than one year. New employees are often unfamiliar with the work and associated hazards. Extensive onboarding programs and coaching are effective strategies to help prevent injuries involving newly hired employees. 

Young workers often possess the energy and strength necessary to perform physically demanding work, but lack the experience and skills needed to perform the work safely and efficiently. 

Veteran Workers:

When it’s difficult to recruit and hire new employees, employers depend on their existing workforce to carry the load. With Baby Boomers staying in the workforce longer for financial or personal reasons, veteran workers in physically demanding occupations experience soft tissue injuries at rates much greater than their younger peers. 

Seasoned workers possess the knowledge and skills necessary to do the job, but often lack the stamina and strength necessary to perform the essential functions of the job safely. Even when these employees “work smarter, not harder,” very physically demanding work can cause injuries. 

Solutions

Wellness Programs:

With significant labor shortages, it is important to keep existing workers safe and healthy. Injuries involving aging workers are the result, or cause of, medical conditions associated with chronic illness or unhealthy lifestyles. 

For example, smoking is a major contributor to degenerative disc disease. Degenerative disc disease can lead to herniated discs and nerve impingement. Any work that aggravates degenerative disc disease caused by smoking, will likely result in injury. 

Obesity can contribute to soft tissue injuries because of the additional weight a worker must carry. Obesity can also lead to diabetes, which significantly affects a person’s ability to recover from soft tissue and other injuries. 

Workplace wellness programs can help keep an existing workforce healthy, especially an aging workforce whose continued employment is critical during this economic boom. 

Mentoring:

As workplaces transition from a majority of Baby Boomers to a majority of Millennials by 2025, employers have the unique opportunity to pair the two generations and facilitate the transition of knowledge and skills to the younger employee generations. 

Generational experts indicate Millennials welcome mentoring, so employers should consider transferring the institutional knowledge of its veteran workers to younger workers through an organized mentoring program. 

Younger workers, when paired with seasoned-veteran workers, can perform some of the more physically demanding tasks. Veteran workers can mentor and provide “work smarter, not harder” tips in completing physically demanding work. 

Hiring Practices:

Despite the difficulties of finding new workers, employers should seek to hire qualified candidates rather than accepting the first warm body that walks through the door. Background and reference checks can shed light on an applicant’s work history and possible criminal background. 

Pre-employment strength testing can determine if young, or old workers possess the strength necessary to perform the essential functions of the job. This technology is capable of measuring the physical strength of a candidate, and also identify injuries of the shoulders, knees, or back which were not fully healed, yet. 

Conclusion:

A strong economy and corresponding labor shortages have created challenges for employes across different industries. An approach that recognizes the value and knowledge of veteran workers, while capitalizing on the youth and energy of younger workers, can help maintain a stable workforce. Wellness programs can help maintain the health and safety of both veteran and younger workers, while reducing the costs associated with poor health and workers’ compensation claims. The shortage of skilled labor makes it more important than ever to keep the employees we have safe, healthy, and happy. 

 

Material posted on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a legal opinion or medical advice. Contact your legal representative or medical professional for information specific to your legal or medical needs.

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