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Age Safe: How an Aging Workforce Impacts the Construction Industry

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By Kevin Hildebrandt
Director of Risk Control
Miron Construction

In the two decades following the end of World War II, the United States’ population boomed. During the first decade of the 21st century, the United States’ economy declined. One result of these occurrences was a large fraction of older workers staying in the job market. In addition, the generation aging into the workforce moved away from trade professions and decided to wait out the poor job market by attending universities.

Combined, these factors have resulted in a major issue facing the construction industry today: older workers are aging out of the workforce faster than new workers are replacing them. As older workers face injuries that take them out of the workforce and companies lose experienced workers, education on preventing and treating injuries is key.

It’s no secret that jobs in the construction industry take a toll on the body. Long periods of material handling, awkward posture and other work activities can be physically demanding on a daily basis. It follows, then, that many construction workers—of all ages—develop chronic lower back pain, shoulder trouble or other muscular issues. The intense workload means that construction workers are more likely to retire at an earlier age than workers in other occupations.

In addition to retirees, there is also a portion of workers who leave the field after an illness or injury to seek jobs in less body-stressful industries. This occurs with workers of all ages, but in increased numbers as workers’ bodies age and experience reduced physical functionality.

Statistically, older workers do not get hurt as often on the job due to their experience and lower likelihood to take risks, but when they do, the healthcare costs are much higher. Aging bodies often experience injury more severely and take longer to heal properly, meaning more time off. Faced with losing wages from lost time on the job, it is tempting for workers to return before they’ve completely healed. Workers who go back to work without properly healing are more likely to get injured again, a lose-lose situation for all involved.

Aside from the individual loss of health, losing older experienced workers means losing those workers’ knowledge as well. For a construction worker new to the industry, there is only so much knowledge that he or she can bring to the first day of work. For these new employees—and for companies—experienced workers who can share their expertise are tremendous assets.

Retaining skilled workers longer allows those employees more time to pass along their knowledge to the next generation of workers. The more years an experienced worker is in the field, the more time he has to train new crew members. Given the value of experienced craft professionals to construction companies, educating employees of all ages about safe working behavior and proper injury care is an essential element to building and maintaining a strong, capable workforce.

Understanding that the health and safety needs of workers—especially aging workers—is critical, Miron Construction Co., Inc., an AGC of Greater Milwaukee and AGC of Wisconsin member, has taken steps to educate employees and empower them to make safe choices on the job.

After years of doing the same job, workers develop habitual ways of completing tasks. By identifying habits that may cause injuries and promoting safe working behavior, companies can develop a culture of safety that keeps workers of all ages safer. When Miron’s risk management team discovered that the company’s largest area of loss was strains and sprains due to lifting injuries, it developed a program to teach its workers stretching/warm-up techniques and proper lifting techniques.

Miron’s risk management team uses a three-step program called the Work Strong Program, which is based on the company’s philosophy of Work Strong, Work Safe, Work Smart. After introducing the program to employees and explaining its benefits and importance, the risk management team teaches employees about proper lifting and ergonomics. The final step takes workers through a series of stretches that prepares them for the day’s work. At any age, the benefits of stretching make a difference that employees can feel right away, making the value immediately apparent and more likely to be repeated on a regular basis.

With the Work Strong Program, every shift at a project site begins with 10 minutes of stretching, led by a coworker, foreman or superintendent. The routine includes stretches for arms, shoulders, legs, back and neck. By empowering employees to take responsibility for their safety and fitness on the job, employees of all ages are more productive and less at risk of injury.

Through the plan devised by the risk management team, workers are able to prepare for the job ahead both mentally and physically and reduce tissue and muscular injuries. With the knowledge of potentially dangerous practices also comes awareness, and teams see increased productivity as they adapt to avoid injuries.

Miron’s Work Strong Program first benefits individual workers, but the effects ultimately spread even further. When time lost is money lost, workplace injuries affect construction companies as a whole. If replacement workers are not available, injured workers take longer to complete tasks and risk new or worsened injuries. Miron’s culture of safety makes everyone responsible for safe, productive jobsites. By promoting safe work habits from which workers of all ages see an immediate benefit, clients, companies and workers all come out ahead.


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Associated General Contractors of America
2300 Wilson Blvd, Suite 300
Arlington, VA, USA
Ph: 703-548-3118 Fax: 703-837-5402