199785 A Qualitative Study of Older Workers' Adaptation to Physically Demanding Work

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Martha Sanders, MA MSOSH OTR/L C , Department of Occupational Therapy, Quinnipiac University, Hamden, CT
Jack McCready, BSEE MS , Research and Development, US Coast Guard, New London, CT
Older workers have become the fastest growing sector of the workforce. Whereas some older workers value the psychosocial benefits of working many older blue collar workers stay employed to accrue money for retirement and to receive medical benefits (Noonan, 2004). Older workers in physically demanding jobs experience age-related changes in physical and cognitive health; however, no studies have documented specifically how typical older workers adapt their jobs without ADA accommodations. Two qualitative case studies were conducted on 63 year old maintenance workers in order to understand how older blue collar workers continue to perform physically demanding jobs as they age. Data were collected using semi-structured interviews, observations, a document review, a Musculoskeletal Body map, and field notes. The data indicated that older workers initiated job modifications themselves because they were fearful of being replaced. Older workers modified jobs using ergonomic methods to minimize the loads lifted and endurance needed for job tasks. Older workers further modified their jobs by slowing down to “think first”, comparing the task demands to their physical capacities, and asking for help. Additional themes that spontaneously emerged from the data included the importance of maintaining self-respect at work, intergenerational conflicts with other younger workers and supervisors, and the broader role of work in older workers' lives. Collectively, these themes reflect important physical and psychosocial issues for older adults and suggest that businesses work collaboratively with older workers to proactively identify workplace modifications and create a culture of workplace respect for older workers.

Learning Objectives:
1. To describe how older workers with physically demanding jobs adapted their job tasks to accommodate age-related changes.

Keywords: Ergonomics, Injury Prevention

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I teach a course in ergonomics at Quinnipiac University and specialize in older workers. I edited a book entitled Ergonomics and Management of Musculoskeletal Disorders
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.