Unique Factors Impact the Safety of Older Women Workers
The majority of people in the United States who are 55 years and older are women; they outnumber men in this age group by 6.7 million, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Women's Bureau. And though there are presently more men of that age in the work force, most of the future increases are expected to come from women.
Here at GEKLAW we are in the business of advocating for safe work environments and fighting for benefits for those injured on the job. These facts tell us is that we are going to have to keep a keen eye on this growing population of older working women as the greater their participation in the work force, the higher the odds of them sustaining workplace injuries.
Hard Work Is What They Have in Common
The following 10 occupations are the most common among women 55 years and older, according to the U.S. Department of Labor:
- Secretaries and administrative assistants
- Registered nurses
- Elementary and middle-school teachers
- Nursing, psychiatric and home health aides
- Bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks
- Retail salespersons
- Personal-care aids
- Office clerks
Many of these jobs require heavy lifting, prolonged standing and repetitive motions, and can lead to some of the most common workplace injuries among older women, including the following:
- Back and neck injuries
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Slips, trips and falls
- Exposure to workplace chemicals
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, as women employees age, the rates of work injuries increase while the rates of returning to work decrease—not a good combination.
Biological, Anatomical and Gender Considerations
Research conducted by the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) found that biology—reproductive factors and hormonal and genetic influences—affects the health of working women. For instance, they discovered that women are more vulnerable than men to such conditions as arthritis and other autoimmune diseases as well as osteoporosis. Therefore, work that involves repetitive movement will impact women differently than men. They also found that women and men metabolize chemicals differently, thus creating a different risk profile for the two genders when it comes to working with certain materials.
In addition, musculoskeletal disorders are a key risk for older women, caused not only by the oftentimes repetitive nature of their work, but also due to the poor ergonomic design of workstations and equipment designed primarily for male employees.
Taking a Proactive Approach in the Future
As work for women 55 years of age and older increasingly becomes a financial necessity, and not simply a "luxury" for the social benefits it affords, we must strive to ensure the safest possible workplace environment for this demographic.
Because knowledge is power, the workplace scene for older women doesn't have to be grim. Forethought and planning on the part of women workers and their employers can go a long way to turn the tide toward safer and more satisfying workplace conditions for women as they age.
Changes in such areas as ergonomics, flexible work hours, targeted training in the use of Personal Protective Equipment and proper lifting techniques are great first steps.
We at GEKLAW are well aware of the workplace dangers faced by everyone regardless of age or occupation. We all deserve the right to put in an honest day's work in a safe environment. We will continue to educate our clients and the various unions we serve to be mindful of the specific needs of workers who may be more vulnerable to injury. By taking that extra step toward increased awareness, and being on the front lines of change, we hope to make a difference.