Introduction

America's workforce is changing. Baby boomers, defined as those born between 1946 and 1964 are now reaching the age where retirement is just around the corner. The official retirement age of the first of these boomers is 2011.

What is the impact of aging on worker health and safety? Addressing these effects means looking at the physical, psychosocial and cognitive issues related to aging. Our society cannot continue to run business as usual. Changes made in the workplace will result in a healthier, safer workforce.

In the next hour, we will examine workplace changes to enhance worker health and safety in America's aging workforce. The characteristic changes involved in an aging workforce will be discussed as well as recommendations to employers to enhance worker health and safety.

Demographics

The definition of older worker varies according to source. The American Age Discrimination Act of 1986 uses 40 years as their eligibility marker for age discrimination cases. The World Health Organization and National Advisory Council on Aging both define the older worker as over 45 years. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) uses the guideline of over 55 for their reference.

The median age in America has gone from 16 in 1790 to 21 in 1890, 22 in 1990 and projected to be 39 in 2040. (Goldberg, 2000, p.11). The largest growing segment of our population is 85 years and older. This composition transcends every aspect of our culture as we witness changes in older student ratios, workers and shoppers. Indeed advertising is changing to appeal to the revenue producing baby boomers.

The number of workers age 45 and older has doubled since 1950. According to the AARP: the number of older persons (55-plus) in the labor force, which stood at about 18.2 million in 2000 is projected to rise to 25.2 million in 2008 and to 31.9 million in 2025. The resulting increase is 38 percent over 10 years and a 75 percent increase over the full 25 years. (Rix, 2001).

The literature, prior to 2001 refers to a crisis for America in terms of availability of workers in view of the low jobless rates and a high level of affluence in business. Since 2001, the employment picture has deteriorated and there are now more than 8 million jobless men and women. However, the labor force participation for those in the aging bracket continues to rise because of the overall demographics of an aging society.

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