Safety Training for Experienced Workers
 Sept. 28, 2012

As Americans age, so does the workforce. People, for a host of reasons, are retiring later. The most common reasons are:

People are living longer and need to maintain their income level for a longer period of time. They need benefits such as health care provided by their employer. There is a concern regarding pensions and Social Security. They want to keep their sense of productivity that comes from meaningful work. Work can be rewarding, workers feel valued for their experience and knowledge.

A population of skilled and experienced workers in your operation has many benefits, but it also poses safety challenges. Over time we become more prone to injury, but that alone is not the concern. Safe work environments all have one thing in common, they provide continual training on safe work practices. This aging workforce means there are more older workers to train than ever before. We all learn differently and what was an effective learning method when we were younger may not be as effective in the latter stages of our work life. Manufacturers should consider adapting their training to meet the special needs of an aging workforce.

Is everyone getting the safety training they need?

I have a vested interest in this topic because I'm an older worker and despite the growing number of older people in the workforce, some employers are reluctant to spend training dollars on us as a group of employees. They may think that we won’t be with the company long enough to make it worthwhile, or that their experience lessens the return on the training investment.

Supervisors and managers who conduct safety training often discount older workers, focusing their attention on younger employees, who take more risks and generally have more accidents. But, older workers also benefit from safety training. Experienced/older workers sometimes take shortcuts because of their long time familiarity with the operation and the process they are involved with. This can lead to work related injuries. Even the CMTA workers' compensation group observes periodic increases in the average age of an employee injured on the job.

With methods and technologies changing rapidly in manufacturing, all workers need to keep their skills and knowledge up to date. We sometimes forget that our older workers are valuable employees characterized by a stronger sense of loyalty and commitment to the job/company, a sound work ethic, better attendance record, better judgment, lower turnover, and historically fewer severe accidents. So it just makes good business sense to make sure they get the training they need to continue to work safely and productively. And remember, seasoned employees can also serve as mentors to develop new employees and enhance their productivity.

Maximize your safety training efforts

Understand younger and older employees may learn differently. Typically older employees learn best when safety training:

    Builds on prior knowledge and safety experience
    Follows a step-by-step approach
    Allows plenty of time to assimilate information (self-paced learning is often ideal for older workers)
    Includes safety handouts that highlight key points
    Gives an adequate opportunity for practice
    Provides support and encouragement
    Involves plenty of interaction, discussionand feedback
    Provides a positive learning environment (e.g., a well-lit area, easy-to-see visual aids, good acoustics so that trainees can hear clearly, and frequent breaks to use rest rooms)

Unfortunately, trainers sometimes fall into the trap of pigeonholing older workers, and as a result, the safety training they provide doesn’t meet the needs of this important segment of the workforce. For example:

    Don't stereotype older workers. They're not all sitting around waiting for retirement. They are productive, competent people with lots of valuable knowledge and experience and they are safety conscious.
    Don’t assume older workers can’t or don’t want to learn new safety techniques. When properly trained, they can acquire the necessary skills to make meaningful contributions.
    Don’t assume they know why a safety protocol is changing. If you are upgrading personal protective equipment, explain why and what the benefit is.

Why Re-Training Matters, Even for Safety

Older workers are a major portion of the skilled workforce, in fact:

    The proportion of the U.S. population of people age 65 and older that continues to work either full or part time is expected to grow.According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median age of the U.S. civilian labor force was projected to reach a record high of 40.7 in 2008. After 1962, the median age had declined steadily until 1980andithasbeenrisingeversince. Industry sectors with decreasing numbers of workers are experiencing an overall higher median age due to Baby Boomers staying in the workforce longer, coupled with "last hired, first fired" policies .
For more information on safety training topics and practice contact the CMTA Group Workers' Compensation Program at wcgroup@cmta.net.

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