the need for research and policies that will help accommodate their needs and enhance their safety and productivity. The American Association of Retired Persons states: “If employers are to reap the benefits of the work ethic and experience of older workers, they must design the workplace of the future to meet their needs.” We consider interventions from the premise that it is generally preferable to accommodate the working environment to anticipate and meet the needs of older workers than to attempt only changing the aging workers themselves to adapt to their environments. There are two sources for such a premise. The first is pragmatic and finds expression in the science and practice of human factors engineering. It is recognition that human beings are imperfect.

Everyone, and that includes you and me, is at some time careless, complacent, overconfident, and stubborn. At times each of us becomes distracted, inattentive, bored and fatigued. We occasionally take chances. We misunderstand, we misinterpret and we misread. As a result of these and still other completely human characteristics, we sometimes do not do things or use things in ways that are expected of us. Because we are human and because all these traits are fundamental and built into each of us, the equipment, machines and systems that we construct for our use have to be made to accommodate us the way we are, and not vice versa. (Chapanis, 1985)

The second source is ethical and legal and finds expression in the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1971: “The Congress declares it to be its purpose and policyZto assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions…” (P.L. 91-596). These workplace protections apply equally to every worker. But all workers are not the same. There are notable differences in size, strength, age, sex, health status, genetic makeup, and other factors that affect people’s risk from hazards on the job. Since Congress intends to protect workers equally across this varied spectrum of characteristics, including age, it follows that workplaces must adapt and change to accommodate a reasonable range.

OSHA’s approach to workplace accommodation and worker protection has been based on the hierarchy of controls concept. This concept in its simplest form holds that workers should be protected by controlling hazards as close to the source as possible. For example, designing a job so that a dangerous chemical is not necessary is preferable to providing a worker with a respirator, which in turn is preferable to training the worker to be as careful around the chemical as possible. Some version of a control hierarchy has been observed by virtually all safety and health professional associations and organizations for more than 50 years. Many OSHA standards require efforts to utilize feasible engineering or administrative controls



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement