Older workers bring expertise, dedication and mentoring to their places of work, but also the physical and mental issues of aging. Today’s workforce is grayer than ever, yet construction contractors – looking to keep business viable – must find ways to keep these workers on the job.

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LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan

The average age of today’s construction Laborer is 45. Some, by the time they’re 50, have difficulty doing the work and are looking at an early retirement, much to the detriment of themselves and their LIUNA signatory contractor.

Projections indicate that an average of 390,000 new construction workers will be needed annually over the next decade. Yet, less than 100,000 registered apprentices enter construction occupations each year.

“The short-term answer rests in keeping older Laborers on the job,” says LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan. “In the long-term, construction must be restructured so that 50-year old workers still have the vitality to continue on the job for another decade.”

Laborers carry heavy loads, work on their knees and use heavy equipment. Sprains, strains and repetitive motion injuries are common. Lighter weight, better-designed hand tools and changes in construction site layouts – like storing materials off-ground for easier lifting, with cranes, forklifts, carts and dollies readily available – will reduce these injuries. Additionally, level walkways and shorter distances to staging areas will decrease falls.

While these worksite improvements will greatly ease work for older workers, they will also benefit younger Laborers. Today’s younger workers will reach old age in far better shape, and they will have the advantage of mentoring by their more experienced peers who stay on the job longer.

“A lot of times, what happens to you in your 20’s and 30’s is what makes you ‘old’ at 50,” says O’Sullivan. “Preventing injuries when you first enter the workforce can keep you on the job longer, which is good for you and good for our signatory contractors.”

These improvements would also help with recruitment. People shy away from the construction industry because of its grueling demands and hazards.  A less physically stressful environment might make the profession more attractive.

With forethought and better equipment, the likelihood of getting hurt on the job is considerably less for all Laborers, regardless of age. More years will be spent working, more recruits will join the ranks and the cost of doing business will be reduced.

The Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America provides health alerts and other publications that promote ergonomics in the construction industry. You can order this information from the LHSFNA Publications section on the website.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]