Addressing Safety Strategies Across Generations

AMT's Interview with Kimberly-Clark Professional

AMT: What are the safety implications of the Baby Boomer generation continuing to work past the age of retirement?

Randy DeVaul: As part of its Safe-Skilled-Ready Workforce Initiative, NIOSH conducted research related to aging, shift work, and fatigue. One finding was that after a person consistently works a 10- to 12-hour shift, their response times become similar to a person who is legally drunk. When an older worker is doing shift work while fatigued, it can be a challenge for them to perform their tasks as efficiently and safely as they could 20 years earlier — especially when working in environments with exposure to hazards, lifting, carrying, and other injury triggers.

Injuries also tend to increase in severity, recovery time, and cost with critical older talent. This creates a quality of life challenge for the injured and their family and for their employer because an experienced worker is out on lost time and the employer incurs the expenses of that recovery. Recent estimates show that accident compensation amounted to more than $51.1 billion in direct costs annually for U.S. employers.

AMT: What are some of the differences in attitudes and behaviors between the two generations regarding workplace safety?

Randy DeVaul: In general, Gen Y is understood to be an entitlement generation that has grown up with everything being done for them or has the expectation that it will be. Part of that thinking carries over into the workplace. Employers are faced with a younger generation that is unskilled in certain tasks due to a lack of experience. These workers have the expectation that someone is watching out for them and may not understand the limitations of their PPE. Therefore, they may not take responsibility for their safety. Conversely, if Baby Boomers are injured, they feel that it is simply part of their job.

To them, it has always been this way. Because of this thinking, they may not be as careful as they could be when working. Gen Y is willing to wear PPE but expects someone to watch out for them, while Baby Boomers tend to not want to wear PPE and may even take shortcuts developed over time to make work easier.

AMT: What are some recommendations for addressing these differences in work practices, attitudes, and workplace safety solutions?

Randy DeVaul: Baby Boomers should be given more responsibility for transferring job knowledge so they are more directly engaged with Gen Y. Baby Boomers can be mentors, new-hire trainers, and help develop job-specific training videos. Aviation schools also should be more directly involved in creating safety training programs for entry-level AMTs.

One way KCP is working to address some of these challenges is by talking with and learning from front line aviation workers to develop innovative PPE. An example of these professional-derived safety solutions is the Jackson Safety V60 Safeview Safety Eyewear. Given that older workers often experience decreased visual acuity, which includes having a harder time reading small print or discerning colors and signage that identifies hazards, this new safety eyewear features close-fit prescription Rx lens inserts that can be easily clipped behind an eye shield.

Ideal for corrective lens wearers or workers that require close-up magnification, the glasses help to reduce eye fatigue or strain so workers do not compromise on safety, performance, or comfort. In combination with these efforts, KCP is also developing training and mentoring programs that will help bridge the gap between the Baby Boomers and Gen Y aviation professionals.

Aircraft Maintenance Technology thanks safety expert Randy DeVaul for providing some insight and helping us better understand the many dimensions of workplace safety.

Each year employers, workers, and society pay the tremendous costs for workers’ insurance, medical expenses, lost wages, and lost productivity associated with workplace illnesses, injuries, and deaths. We, the workers, must accept the responsibility for following safety precautions and wear the required PPE necessary to keep us safe. It will always be us, not the agencies or corporations that will endure the pain and suffering, psychological and family stress, lifestyle adjustments, and career-shortening implications associated with these workplace injuries.

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