ingly inappropriate as the variance in exposure becomes progressively greater.”

Therefore, in assessing and addressing the health and safety needs of older workers, it is important to remember that they are not all alike. Those who have been employed intermittently or at low wages for all of their working lives, without medical insurance or pension benefits, are in a different position from those who were more fortunate and who will have different needs. For some, voluntary retirement may not be an option at any age because they need paid employment as a matter of economic necessity. In the absence of other means of economic support, financially insecure workers are likely to work as long as they can, even if the jobs available to them put their health and safety at risk.

Reasons for Attending to the Health and Safety Needs of Older Workers

Why should attention be paid to the health and safety needs of older workers? One reason is that understanding the capabilities, limitations, and needs of older workers can help to address issues of productivity and labor supply. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a serious slowing in the growth of the labor supply in coming years, falling from an average annual rate of 1.1 percent between 1990 and 2000 to an annual rate of 0.7 percent between 2000 and 2025 (GAO, 2001). While some labor needs may be met through immigration, older workers already in the U.S. labor force (especially those with high skill levels) represent an important resource. To maximize benefits to the economy and investment capital, a societal interest exists in retaining older workers in the labor force. From this viewpoint, the highest priority concern is to learn which older workers can be expected to work productively, what kinds of tasks they are best suited for, and how their productivity might be increased through cost-effective accommodations and support programs in the workplace and community.

Another reason for attending to the health and safety needs of older workers is that addressing their capabilities, limitations, and needs can help maximize their opportunities for making work-related choices that promote health, safety, and life satisfaction in their later years. This perspective also encourages attention to workplace and community accommodations and support programs specifically aimed at older workers. It includes broader considerations such as the following:

  • adequate and effectively enforced occupational health and safety regulations for workers of all ages, to help them enter their older working years with less pre-existing exposure to occupational hazards;

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