The labor shortage crisis is continuing to create major challenges in key industries such as manufacturing, trucking and construction.

Given this dynamic, some companies need older workers to stay on the job longer because the pool of new workers interested in these positions is shrinking. In fact, a majority of construction firms are having trouble finding qualified workers. This means companies are now faced with more jobs than workers who can actually fill the positions.

Interestingly, some experts say that the shortage of laborers is being partially driven by the fact that workers who lost their jobs during the 2008 housing crisis went on to other career fields and are no longer interested in construction jobs. Others speculate that millennials, who now make up the largest generation in the American workforce, desire jobs that inspire, entertain or are technology-driven instead of labor-intensive.

Making matters even more challenging is the fact that the population is continuing to age, with trends showing there will be 72.1 million people 65 years or older by 2030, which is more than twice the number that this population was in 2000. In addition, older individuals are engaging in an ongoing phenomenon called “un-retiring,” as they take on new positions in other organizations once they officially leave their previous positions.

Of course, while many organizations truly value and embrace their “older” workers, and while they are finding creative ways to work around their labor shortage challenges, some of them are not fully aware of how these challenges are increasing risks to workplace safety.

For example, in situations where laborers are limited, many times employees are asked to work extensive amounts of overtime, which could (at times) impact their clarity and alertness while on the job. And, in cases where workers are aging, their physical limitations or health challenges could hinder them from handling the demands and requirements of doing the job safely or correctly. Given these potential landmines, it’s important for organizations to take extra precautionary steps to ensure they are able to mitigate risks and prevent on-the-job injuries and extensive workers’ compensation claims from occurring.

The good new is there are now prevention and early intervention solutions providers that are being even more proactive in delivering the latest innovative solutions to help companies limit the risks associated with aging work teams and labor shortages. These new innovations are disruptive methods to the traditional workers’ compensation model that’s been around for years, which only addresses situations after accidents occur and after claims have been filed. By implementing some of the latest best practices, companies can ensure a safer and healthier workforce for years to come.
 
Five solutions companies should consider

1.  Worksite evaluations. Involve physical therapists on the front end (not just after an injury occurs) to work with employees, supervisors and management to understand workflow and all job task requirements. Therapists can recommend optimum positions, ergonomic strategies and physical movements required at work stations to minimize musculoskeletal impact on the employee.
2.  On-the-job fitness solutions. Engage employees in wellness tactics like stretching, core muscle strengthening, endurance and coordination exercises that are specifically customized to improve areas of the body that are most engaged in performing work-related tasks.
3.  Functional job analysis (FJA). Evaluate and empirically measure the critical functional demands of the job. This analysis also involves assessing the employee, the work and the worksite. An FJA can be extremely beneficial in accessing the capabilities of older employees and in helping supervisors with assigning or reassigning them to positions that best fit their current fitness level.
4.  Prompt reporting. Train and engage employees to report any health concerns as soon as they notice any discomfort. Once these early notifications are reported to supervisors, they are able to immediately address the concern and respond with appropriate evaluations, diagnosis or medical care–before the issue escalates.
5.  Early intervention screening. Allow prevention teams to screen employees and evaluate the worksite as a result of the employee’s concerns, supervisor request or first responder’s request. The prevention team then coaches the employee on appropriate ways to perform job tasks, the correct movement patterns, posture changes and strategies to reduce reported discomfort and improve safe job performance.

Now is a perfect time for companies to consider deploying some of these best practices and innovative ideas in prevention, early intervention and return to work programs. By using these latest solutions, companies can be better equipped to reduce claims and on-the-job injuries, even while managing older work teams or a tight labor force.