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DOL touts benefits of accommodating aging workers

Employers can preserve “institutional knowledge” by providing accommodations to aging workers who might otherwise leave the workforce prematurely due to disabilities or chronic health problems, according to two new briefs issued by the U.S. Department of Labor.

“By promoting workforce flexibility, harnessing widespread advances in assistive technology, and using other types of workplace accommodations, we can slow the mass exodus of older workers in health care and other industries, and continue to benefit from the knowledge and skills they bring,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor Kathy Martinez in a statement announcing the release of the briefs.

The briefs summarize the findings and recommendations from two 2012 conferences sponsored by the department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. The conferences were attended by experts on aging, disability and employment who discussed the impact of aging on the national workforce and health care systems.

The first brief highlights the role of medical professionals in helping older workers stay at work. The brief recommends that employers adopt early intervention in the form of assistive technology and other workplace accommodations to prevent disability-related job loss.

“To prevent needless work disability, it is essential to be clear about the actual nature of the obstacles to be overcome in each individual’s situation,” the brief stated. “It is also important to map out exactly what needs to happen to enable that particular person to be safe, comfortable, and able to perform the functions required of a working person.”

A second brief identified successful strategies for health care employers to retain aging professionals without sacrificing patient care. For example, the report offered as a solution the installation of bed lifts so nurses do not have to manually lift patients.

“Moving to a more team-oriented approach to organizing health care jobs may also allow health care professionals with different strengths and abilities to stay on the job longer,” the brief said.

The department said that current projections indicate that many of the 25 million baby boomers will leave the U.S. labor force by 2020.

“A confluence of demographic, economic, and health factors have intersected to make the employment situation of older Americans a matter of urgent national importance,” Martinez said in her statement.

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