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OM in the News: Ergonomics for an Aging Workforce

August 17, 2013

aging factory workerIt’s no secret the exodus of retirement-age workers and their considerable knowledge is placing a strain on manufacturing companies around the globe. Less discussed, but just as real, reports Industry Week (Aug., 2013), are the challenges being presented by aging workers still employed on the manufacturing floor — and the design changes workplaces should be considering to keep these valuable employees productive and in the game.

“With this shift, we first must appreciate the difference between the younger and aging person, and then make sure we design accordingly so that these differences don’t become an obstacle,” says ergonomics expert Lance Perry.

Xerox, for example, has taken ergonomic measures to address its older population. In its 2012 environment, health and safety report, the company noted that musculoskeletal disorders continue to represent about half of its work-related injuries and illnesses, which, says Xerox, “is why we have strong processes to reduce ergonomic stresses in the workplace. Those strong processes include an ergonomic training program designed to provide simple ergonomic strategies, as well as awareness of the normal aging process, to reduce personal risk to employees.”

“Many people view the aging workforce as a liability, and to some extent it might be, but it is also an opportunity,” adds Perry. “This is where your experience lies, this is where your job knowledge lies, this is where, in some respects, loyalty lies.” Ultimately, Perry advises manufacturers to consider what design changes they can make to retain valuable, but aging, knowledge workers. “What can you do to keep them on the job longer and still be productive and safe in the process?”

Discussion questions:
1. Why is ergonomics an important issue for operations managers?

2. What kind of ergonomics designs can help older workers?

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