Occ health: Ageing and fitness for work

AGEING AND FITNESS FOR WORK

The demographics of the general population is constantly changing. There are more citizens who would be prepared to work longer as longevity is increasing. The older worker can be a big asset to the organisation due to their institutional knowledge which is frequently unwritten

Sickness absence usage can increase with ageing. The impact is frequently underestimated due to the “healthy worker effect”. The healthy worker effect is the effect that is seen when persons leave their employment prior to pensionable age due to factors in the workplace that made them ill. The only workers left in the company are those that have natural resistance to the workplace exposures

In certain circumstances the elderly worker realises that they are losing some of their abilities in performing operational work. They can then migrate to more administrative work, and/ or develop new skills, climb the corporate ladder, develop computer skills or make other plans to compensate for their deterioration in physical strength or special skill

If person can not be placed in another position, the organisation may have no other option than to make them redundant. This can generally follow two different routes namely the occupational health route in which a person gets classified as “permanently unfit on medical grounds for performing any work in the organisation” or the human resources management route “permanently unfit for any work in the organisation due to non-performance”

General practitioners frequently send letters to employers requesting “light duty” for employees. There may be no “light duty” position available for certain jobs. If you are an administrative person (not doing hard physical labour), there may be no lighter job. If you do perform hard physical labour there may be a lighter job but it may be only temporary in nature. The employer has no legal responsibility to accomodate the employee. There may be a moral or ethical responsibility

ILO GUIDELINE FOR MANUAL MATERIAL HANDLING (MMH)

These guidelines are age dependent.

Age (in years) Men Women
18-20           23 kg      14 kg
20-35           25 kg      15 kg
35-50           21 kg       13 kg
50+               16 kg       10 kg

One can see that the two routes for permanent unfitness (occupational health route and HR route) have serious consequences and the two routes need a formalised, transparent HR protocol

Older workers should strive to keep their fitness levels high. The dictum “If you don’t use it, you lose it” applies.

JOB CLASSIFICATION ACCORDING TO THE MEDICAL DISABILITY ADVISOR AND PHYSICAL EXERTION REQUIREMENTS

SEDENTARY WORK
Exerting up to 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of force occasionally and/or negligible amount of force frequently or constantly to lift, carry, push, pull or otherwise move objects, including the human body. Sedentary work involves sitting most of the time, but may involve walking or standing for brief periods of time. Jobs are sedentary if walking or standing are required only occasionally and other sedentary criteria are met

LIGHT WORK
Exerting up to 20 pounds (9kg) of force occasionally and/or 10 pound (4.5kg) of force frequently, and/or negligent amount of force constantly to move objects. Physical demand requirements are in excess of those for sedentary work. Light work usually requires walking or standing to a significant degree. However if the use of an arm and/or leg control requires forces greater than for sedentary work and the worker sits most of the time, the job is categorised as light work. Classified as fit for light work automatically implies being fit for light and sedentary work

MEDIUM WORK
Exerting up to 50 pounds (22.5 kg) of force occasionally and/or up to 20 pounds frequently and/or up to 10 pounds (4.5 kg) constantly to move objects. Classified as fit for medium work automatically implies being fit for medium, light or sedentary work

HEAVY WORK
Exerting no more than 100 pounds (45 kg) of force occasionally and/or in excess of 50 pounds (22.5 kg) of force frequently and/or in excess of 20 pounds (9 kg) of force constantly to move objects. Classified as fit for heavy work automatically implies being fit for heavy, medium, light and sedentary work

VERY HEAVY WORK
Exerting in excess of 100 pounds (45 kg) of force occasionally and/or in excess of 50 pounds (22.5 kg) frequently and/or in excess of 20 pounds (9kg) of force constantly to move objects. Classifed as fit for heavy work automatically implies being fit for very heavy, heavy, medium, light and sedentary work