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Health and Safety Needs of Older Workers
retirees, some having reentered the labor market. Subsequent evaluation of the program through focus groups showed that “one of the more prominent issues to emerge from the workshop was the need for older adults to move beyond the ‘work ethic’ values of the middle years. It was determined that new ‘yardsticks’ were needed for measuring what makes life worth living” (p. 69).
To date, employer-supported retirement planning support appears to be available mainly to employees of large companies. Encouraging the spread of similar services in smaller firms, perhaps through consortium arrangements, would be desirable since an even greater need for retirement planning exists for many workers employed in small firms and/or intermittent jobs, particularly women and minorities (Angel and Angel, 1998; Mitchell, Levine, and Phillips, 1999; O’Rand and Henretta, 1999; Dancy and Ralston, 2002).
Traditional EAP Services Customized for Older Workers
While substance abuse interventions have long been the backbone of EAP services, these interventions may require modification to meet the needs of older employees with drug or alcohol problems. As Goldmeier (1994:624) points out, “Substance abuse among the elderly may be masked by physical problems and therefore escape detection; in addition, the elderly tend to underreport physical illnesses or disorders because they fear discrimination, and they may be more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol or illicit drugs because of age-related physical changes.” The picture may be further complicated by interactions of alcohol or illicit drugs with prescription drugs that the older worker may be taking. The potential for unrecognized alcoholism is of particular concern, because heavy alcohol consumption is related to occupational injury among older workers. In a nationally representative sample of 6,857 nonfarm workers aged 51–61, alcoholism was positively associated with occupational injury, even after controlling for age, sex, education, occupation, and strenuous job activity (Zwerling et al., 1996). In this study, the injury rate among the older workers who consumed five or more drinks a day was five times greater than for the category showing the lowest injury rate (who consumed one to two drinks per day). Potentially, EAPs can play a useful roles on several levels: (1) primary and secondary prevention of substance abuse among older workers through worksite wellness programs of medical screening, drug screening, education, review of work attendance and accident records, and maintenance of a positive work environment; and (2) tertiary prevention—after a substance abuse problem has been identified—through referral to community resources, counseling, mediation, advocacy, and case management (Goldmeier, 1994; Brummett, 1999).