Multigenerational Risk Mitigation Prevents Injuries, Cuts WC Costs, Expert Advises

22 Jul, 2019 Nancy Grover

                               

Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompenstion.com) - While the physical issues associated with aging workers have been well documented, younger workers also carry their share of risks. Managing the health and safety of today’s multigenerational workforce is no small task, according to Kevin T. Glennon, VP Clinical Programs and National Product Leader, Home Health & Complex Care Services at OneCall.

Beyond the traditional safety regimens, Glennon also advises employers to promote strategies that improve employees’ overall health, as a way to prevent injuries and cut claims costs for workers who become injured.

An older worker with a lower extremity injury who does not have the strength to use crutches or other equipment to support his body might require a wheelchair until he can bear the weight, thereby delaying the recovery process. If the worker is also overweight, special, more expensive equipment may be needed.

Younger workers who’ve spent  much of their lives hunched over mobile phones, tablets and computers may be more at risk of cervical injuries. For these claims, causation may be difficult to determine. If the injury is deemed work-related, the recovery may be impeded because of a compromised musculoskeletal system from years of poor posture.

These examples demonstrate the need for employers to look beyond the typical slip-and-fall or motor vehicle accident in their injury prevention programs. Taking a holistic approach to their employees’ overall health and wellbeing, in addition to using basic safety precautions in the workplace may make more economic sense.

Younger Workers’ Injury Risks

Generation Z workers, meaning those born post-1996, are more technologically “plugged in than even millennials,” Glennon said. But because of the way they’ve grown up using various technical devices, they are prone to ‘text neck,’ and ‘text thumb.’

“Texting neck, or forward head syndrome, stems from leaning over phones, computers, and games,” he explained. “The spine health of these individuals is sometimes 30 or 40 years advanced from where it should be.”

Tension headaches, neck and shoulder pain, difficulty breathing, and pain in the middle of the back, chest and lower back are just a few of the physical downsides of texting.

‘Smartphone thumb,’ also called trigger finger of the thumb, has traditionally affected workers with highly repetitive jobs and skilled laborers. Increasingly, however, it is being seen in people who regularly use smartphones, often with uncomfortable motions the thumb makes while typing on the keyboard or playing games on electronic devices.

“One thumb is higher than the other,” Glennon said. The motion can cause inflammation of the tendon that bends and flexes the thumb.

The habitual poor postures and awkward movements of younger workers are creating a variety of problems. “We’re seeing an increase in cervical injuries and hand-and-wrist complaints,” Glennon said. “Are those injuries are a direct result of their jobs? Often I’ve seen it’s an exacerbation to a pre-existing condition.”

Aging Workers

Research has shown that older workers generally have fewer injuries than their younger counterparts, but their recoveries are often longer and more expensive due to comorbidities and/or complications. Some of the risks that can cause these include: 

  • Medication side effects. Older workers may be taking a variety of medications. In addition to the side effects that come with the drugs, the aging process can slow metabolization of medications. That means the side effects can have a greater impact than they would in younger people.
  • Falls, due to decreased strength and endurance, visual problems, muscle weakness and poor balance.
  • Compromised respiratory systems, which can lead to pneumonia, especially if the worker is bedridden for a long period.
  • Circulation problems, especially for those over 70 years of age.
  • Prolonged hospital stays, which can result in infections.

One of the biggest risks for aging workers is denial of their decreasing abilities, which can cause them to work beyond their physical limits and put them at risk of injuries.

Mitigating the Risks

The risks to any worker are exacerbated when certain comorbid conditions are present. Diabetes, smoking, obesity or overweight, sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure and/or cholesterol are just some of the conditions that can turn an injury into a complicated, expensive claim.

Not only can these conditions affect recovery, but they may also impact a worker’s ability to return home, especially if there is no family support. That may necessitate sending the worker to a special facility, another expense.

The risks and comorbidities can be prevented or addressed. For example, many people who are pre-diabetic or even have diabetes have no idea. Wellness programs that include a simple blood test combined with support from a healthcare provider can prevent development of diabetes or ensure someone with the condition is properly managing it.

Smoking cessation and weight-loss programs can prevent and help workers manage these conditions. Efforts that encourage exercise – whether gym memberships, walking meetings, or encouraging employees to use stairs instead of elevators – can result in dramatic changes, especially when those in the C-suite are invested in the idea.

Working with healthcare providers to alert them to the risks and use preventive measures can be beneficial. Aging workers who are provided flu shots, and vaccines for pneumonia and shingles have lower risks of contracting these ailments.

Communication with injured workers is also crucial to understand what his unique needs may be. It might reveal the need for home modifications, for example, before the worker returns home.

Ergonomists or others can be brought in to the workplace to demonstrate proper body mechanics and postures for using workstations. Appropriate stretching exercises can significantly reduce the risk of repetitive stress injuries, especially those prevalent in younger workers.

 


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    About The Author

    • Nancy Grover

      Nancy Grover is a freelance writer having recently retired as the Director, Media Services for WorkersCompensation.com. She comes to our company with more than 35 years as a broadcast journalist and communications consultant. Grover’s specialties include insurance, workers’ compensation, financial services, substance abuse, healthcare and disability. For 12 years she served as the Program Chair of the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. A journalism/speech graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University, Grover also holds an MBA from Palm Beach Atlantic University.

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