We all know that Australia’s construction industry is a victim of the ageing population. With people remaining in the workforce longer, we ponder what this may mean for the construction worker and workplace safety.
The most common injury reported for workers over the age of 45 is musculoskeletal disorders, rather than workplace accidents. It seems, therefore, their abundant experience helps our older generation to avoid accidents. Their physical abilities, on the other hand, may cause other problems.
These incidences, however, are not exclusively due to an aging body. We often see the older generation skip safety measures as they over-rely on their own experience and judgment. Consider the term ‘she’ll be right, mate.’
Younger Workers Suffer More Injuries
But without a doubt, the skills our older workers possess are an asset. By ensuring they are taught the importance of safe work methods, we can keep them working safely for longer.
Australian statistics reflect that young workers are 17 per cent more likely to suffer a work-related injury than other age groups.
According to ProChoice, Australian statistics reflect that young workers are 17 per cent more likely to suffer a work-related injury than other age groups. Young workers often have reduced risk perception, are less likely to ask questions, and tend to overestimate their capabilities.
“Organisations should utilise their (older workers) experience to educate new workers,” Glen Hutchinson, Managing Director at HMC Safety Consultants, told Jobsite ANZ. “Most incidents are generally behavioural as opposed to systemic. Poor planning and coordinating will also result in poor execution.
“Most incidents I see involved workers aged between 18 and 26 years old. They’re often in a hurry to get things done but without the knowledge and experience.”
Rosie Nechie, Director of Essential Safety, told Jobsite ANZ that the only way to make WHS work is for the message to come from the top. “Management need to directly speak with their workers, ask them questions and engage them. If they are part of the conversation, then they are more likely to ‘own it’,” Nechie said.
More Face-to-Face Safety Training Needed
During one particular training session, Nechie engaged a physiotherapist to talk with the group. The physio asked them to lay on the floor, place their hand on their stomach and do a sit up. Then they asked the trainees what had happened to their stomach. The majority said their stomach stuck out when doing a sit up. Turns out they were doing it wrong. In order to sit up safely, stomach muscles should be engaged and drawn in.
A simple hands-on experiment like this hits home much harder than a policy that sits in the cupboard gathering dust or an online course delivered with little guidance.
“New employees are often given access to online safety training which needs to be completed prior to entering a job site. In order to get the training finished quickly and get out on the job site, many rush through the content just looking for the answers to pass.”
The West Australian government released an interesting report which mentions that people of all ages need time to adapt to changing requirements. When introducing changes to tasks or equipment, workers require time to adapt. Strength and fitness take time to develop no matter what age. Therefore, performance demands should be set lower while workers are still adapting to new work requirements.
While older employees can still safely perform manual handling tasks, the report suggests changes to make the process safer. The weight and size of objects should be reduced where possible, the distance between the object and the person lifting should be reduced, and mechanical lifting equipment should be used where practical.
Here are a few tech features that can assist with safety on the job.
Apps to Monitor the Qualifications of Workers Onsite
Apps allow for the collation of qualifications held by workers, making it easy to ensure that everyone has adequate certificates and licenses. This technology can track workers on site via GPS, and display a system alert if a worker enters an unauthorised area. This can substantially boost compliance and increase safety.
Site sensors keep workers safe, reduce costs, and predict maintenance needs by collecting data and analyzing it to make predictions. Certain sensors can alert relevant people, for instance, if temperatures are rising and thus help prevent a site fire. They can also monitor increasing humidity levels.
Wearables allow employees to be alerted to potential hazards, like heat stroke for outdoor workers or a change of heart rate for those performing strenuous tasks. Monitoring the movements of employees like bending, twisting, or repetitive motions makes it easier to gather data, which can later be used to modify work processes and prevent injuries.
As mentioned earlier, musculoskeletal disorders account for the majority of incidents among our older workers. Exoskeletons help construction personnel lift heavier objects, improve posture, and reduce body strain by redistributing weight.
“We have seen an increase in task rotation to mitigate prolonged exposure but this is a direct correlation of managing worker fatigue rather than being specific to the older workforce,” Hutchinson said.
“More emphasis needs to be adopted when engaging workers to do critical manual handling tasks. Their ability to undertake certain tasks needs to be evaluated prior to designating them. Workers should always be evaluated against an intensive pre-employment medical which encompasses the Functionality Capacity Assessment. It’s important to understand and determine job fit requirements.”
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