While the challenges of meeting the needs of an ageing workforce are common across many industries, the aged care sector is unique in that the workforce assisting the aged community is becoming the aged who need help! Further, with projections suggesting the current workforce will need to quadruple by 2050 to meet the needs of an ageing population1, then employers have a real challenge on their hands: to retain their staff while proactively managing their ageing workers to minimise the potential for workplace psychological and physical illness and injury.
The major physical changes that occur with ageing are the loss of muscle strength and speed of movement and the increased wear and tear of our soft tissues. An older worker may present with increased difficulty performing the heavier aspects of their job, an increased risk of trips and falls and may sustain more significant injuries and/or take longer to recover from injury than a younger worker. When we consider that 86% of the aged care workforce is female and that the inherent physical demands of the roles include repetitive tasks, awkward postures, lifting and squatting (often not in ideal environments) then it is not hard to see the issues faced. Add to that the fact that many of them work in isolation and have to deal with clients who can present with challenging physical and psychological behaviours and you start to get a broader sense of the situation; and that is not considering the additional impact of chronic illness such as heart disease and diabetes that may be present as a result of long term poor lifestyle choices.
With all that in mind, what can the healthcare employer do to manage their ageing workers and reduce incidents, the associated lost time at work (both in sick leave and workers’ compensation claims) and the cost of claims? Unfortunately there is no “off the shelf” set of services that will address the issues being faced by every employer. The approach needs to be one of assessment and analysis of the current challenges, the implementation of a program to intervene and address the identified problems and then regular evaluation and improvement of the program.
Consequently, the intervention strategies you decide to implement will be dependent on the findings of your analysis eg: Are you concerned that some of your workers may not be meeting the inherent demands of their role? Are your injuries primarily related to manual handling? Have you had an increase in the number of workers with chronic illness or psychological injuries and has this affected your sick leave and absenteeism rates?
Whatever intervention measures you adopt, a health and wellbeing strategy needs to be part of the package. When you consider the effects of ageing and the incidence of chronic illnesses are accelerated by physical inactivity, poor nutrition, obesity, smoking, mental health issues, alcohol abuse and poor sleep, you cannot escape the fact that a physically and mentally well worker is less likely to injure themselves, will recover more quickly from injury and will be more resilient in the long term.
As they say, “time waits for no man” and this is never truer than in the context of ageing! The problems of the ageing workforce will not go away with a “head in the sand” approach. Be proactive and prepared.
Injury Treatment works with employers to diagnose their specific needs through gap analyses and assessment services to develop innovative and tailored programs to address any concerns identified. If you would like to know more about how we can assist your organisation, contact Judy Jankovics on 02 8746 3398 or 0448 848 996 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
1Productivity Commission. (2011). Caring for older Australians. Report No. 53, Final Enquiry Report. Canberra