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How to Manage an Aging Workforce

A study released this week shows the top Canadian job market is in Wood Buffalo, Alberta and Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer, and Grand Prairie are also in the top ten. Not a surprise! But with so many job openings in the Oil Sands, it’s hard to keep up – and recruiting and retaining “older workers” is one way employers are addressing the labour shortage. For safety sensitive positions, this begs the question – should we be monitoring the health of our aging workers more closely?

The negative myths and stereotypes for older workers are generally untrue – in fact, studies show they have a strong work ethic and sense of duty to the job. But the reality is they may not have the same strength or physical abilities at age 50 or 60 as they had at half that age. Decreasing grip strength and decreasing range of motion are common. They could also become more susceptible to chronic conditions such as arthritis or macular degeneration, respiratory problems and sudden changes in heart rhythm.

The statistics out there suggest these issues are real. In the U.S., roadway crashes are the leading cause of occupational fatalities for older drivers. Here in Canada, the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA) recommends a medical review of commercial vehicle drivers every five years up to the age of 45, every three years between the ages of 45 and 65, and annually at 65 and over. This is the law in many provinces where the CCMTA standard has been adopted.

While there may not be any mandatory age-related medical requirements for workers in the vast majority of other types of safety sensitive positions, a similar policy to that of CCMTA could prove beneficial to both your company and your workers. Occupational medical exams can help identify musculoskeletal issues and many other medical conditions (eg: diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.). These exams should include a comprehensive health history including personal, occupational, lifestyle, medication use, and family history, as well as a comprehensive head-to-toe medical examination, including, but not limited to:

    • Vision screen to assess workers’ visual acuity
    • Hearing assessment
    • Cardiovascular assessment
    • Respiratory assessment
    • Musculoskeletal assessment
    • Back assessment
    • Blood pressure and pulse evaluation
    • Biological testing (blood, urine, etc.) and other testing (ECG, Chest X-Ray, PFT, etc.) as required

A thorough assessment of an aging worker’s health and physical fitness will in turn help you determine if adjustments to work schedules, equipment, or working environments (i.e. flex-time or packing in smaller quantities or containers to minimize lifting) are required. In the case of a medical condition, they may have an opportunity to receive treatment or make changes to their lifestyle that could prevent a short or long-term disability claim.

Remember, even though the duty to accommodate is often used to allow workplace adjustments for workers with disabilities, this could extend to meeting the specific needs of older workers. Make sure the decisions you make are based on actual medical evidence.

Do you think worker medicals should be mandatory for aging workers in safety sensitive positions? Our Medical Director, Dr. Barry Kurtzer will open the discussion and share his thoughts on the issue during his presentation at the CSSE’s Professional Development Conference in Calgary September 15th. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, let us know what you think by posting a comment below or connecting with us on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter @DriverCheckCA.