Need to Know in MMH: The Aging Workforce

DSC_6717The number of people aged 55 and over in the workforce has increased drastically over the last 13 years and is projected to keep on growing. This is attributed to a combination of influences on the baby boomer generation, ranging from social security to an ingrained desire to work. The manual material handling (MMH) industry is no stranger to this. Fortunately, a lot of their best workers are continuing to work into their fifties and sixties despite the physical effects of aging. Additionally, finding talented twenty-something employees to fill job openings is increasingly difficult. MMH is still hiring on new employees who are of the baby boomer generation because of their experience and strong work ethic. However, data shows that the aging population is also more expensive to employ. With this in mind, MMH managers would be wise to take extra care of their employees in anticipation that they will continue to be productive in their later years.

While the current and future 55+ workforce is extremely valuable, with aging come some other costly concerns. The article, “Health and Safety Issues in an Aging Workforce,” put out by AARP, states, “Employers have a vested interest in the physical well-being of their workers, if for no other reason than because illness and injury costs money in the form of sick leave, disability and other benefits, and lost productivity.” Looking at trends in injury severity, frequency, and cost, CNA insurance advises, “Ideally, manufacturers should design jobs so that 90 percent of the population can perform the physical requirement of the tasks without stress.” In a manufacturing risk profile, CNA outlines some statistics about MMH workers between 55 and 60 years old:

  • Average cost of an injury is three times more than the average cost of an injury to someone 20-25 years old
  • They are 12-35% less likely to return to work than their younger (25-39) counterparts
  • The absence of a return-to-work (RTW) process yields about 35% higher claim costs than those with a RTW program.

Districts Mutual Insurance’s statistics also show that in the MMH field, average claims for those aged 50-69 cost upwards of $8,000 whereas the highest claim costs for those 20-49 are around $4,000. Given all of our information, we know that A) it is both likely and desirable to have employees working in MMH who are over the age of 50, and B) it is important to make accommodations to limit the impacts of “older” workers on overall cost and productivity.

The most commonly cited and reliable solution to high costs associated with injury and illness is ergonomics. In a report from OSHA summarizing the results from more than 100 studies of the effects that newly-implemented ergonomics programs had on musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), we see why. These studies showed an average 67% reduction in MSDs, 74% reduction in lost workdays, 74% fewer workers’ compensation claims, and 71% reduction in the cost of those claims.

For companies looking to start small with ergonomic implementation, it is helpful to know what kind of tasks result in the most MSDs. In MMH, pushing and pulling accounts for one of the highest cost and occurrences of MSDs. One of the most successful pieces of equipment to reduce MSDs from pushing and pulling is the power tugger. Tugs are reportedly not only ergonomically-sound, but also practical and well-liked in the industry. They are known for bringing gains to productivity as well as savings in man hours. Power tuggers are an excellent option for the MMH industry to spare their employees of unnecessary stress and bring longevity to their careers.

For information on battery-powered tuggers, search this website, email, or call 952-767-1720.