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Trends in Occupational Health: An Aging Workforce, Chronic Disease, and the De-Skilling of Nursing

An internationally recognized expert in occupational health says the three most pressing issues facing OHNs today are an aging workforce, chronic disease management, and other healthcare professionals being placed in their roles.

That was the message delivered by Dr. Bonnie Rogers during her keynote speech at the AOHNA’s Symposium in Banff in May. As a gold sponsor of the event, DriverCheck’s Connor Page had the pleasure of introducing Dr. Rogers to the audience.

Dr. Bonnie Rogers

Dr. Rogers told the crowd that the total health of a worker involves not just preventing workplace illness and injury, but promoting their overall health. And right now she says the aging workforce is having a big impact on productivity and health and safety in the workplace.

“You can see a decline in the degree and scope of work that can be done,” Dr. Rogers told DriverCheck after her speech.

“The job itself needs to change to match what the worker can do once they get to an age where they may need to be more vigilant, or where they are slowing down because of musculoskeletal issues. Productivity becomes an issue simply because of the age factor.”

She says it’s not that aging workers aren’t sharp or skilled – they have those abilities. “But there is a physiological change in the person’s body that impacts how much they can do and how fast they can do it.”

When it comes to managing chronic disease, Dr. Rogers says employers and OHNs have a large role to play.

“There needs to be that culture at the work site that the worker as a healthy person is the most important thing – so having an OHN on site that can identify the prevalence of chronic diseases and develop programs to monitor those diseases and prevent unhealthy behaviours from occurring. There are so many things that can help make the chronic disease less severe and prevent it from occurring altogether. So when you think about secondary prevention, limiting consequences of disease, that’s where the OHN can play a major role in terms of supporting healthy behaviours.”

She says the value that an OHN can bring to the workplace should not be underestimated, and that employers should think twice about allowing paramedics and EMTs to do their job.

“The OHN practice is very broad. It encompasses work and worker pre-placement surveillance, health promotion and protection, case management, and administration and management. It also involves knowing all of the legal issues related to different exposures and primary care. By licensure, the OHN is obligated to do certain practices and behaviours that other healthcare professionals are not licenced to do.”

Dr. Rogers is a published author and internationally recognized expert in occupational health, worker health promotion, and occupational health nursing. She is a Professor of Public Health and Nursing and the Director of the Occupational Safety and Health Education and Research Center and the Occupational Health Program at the University of North Carolina. She has also been granted a NIOSH Career Award to study ethical issues in occupational health.