With an aging workforce in Canada, there may be concerns that musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) may be more prevalent and costly. While the evidence on this question is inconclusive, some current research suggests that supporting healthy aging in workplaces will benefit society in general.
That’s the message from a recent position paper prepared by a team of researchers from the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) for the Centre of Research Expertise for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders (CRE-MSD). In the paper, the team examined a framework for healthy aging set out by the World Health Organization (WHO).
That framework includes strategies for creating age-friendly environments, strategies that the IWH team suggests can be adapted and applied to workplaces. They include combatting ageism; enabling autonomy, and supporting healthy aging in policy.
While our focus was on MSDs and aging, we realized early on that we needed to go beyond the occupational health and safety literature to find out how workplaces were addressing the aging workforce, says Dr. Dwayne Van Eerd, IWH associate scientist and lead author of the position paper.
The WHO framework was helpful in providing strategies and a starting point for finding the additional literature.
On combatting ageism, the team said the current research literature does not support a link between aging and lower productivity, lower work ability or higher MSDs. On enabling autonomy, the team found research on key approaches such as flexible work arrangements and customized employment contracts called “I-deals” (which stands for “idiosyncratic deals").
Regarding workplace policies to provide support for healthy aging and older workers, the team found inconsistency in the research literature. Perhaps the greatest challenge to workplace policy is the heterogeneity among older workers, note the authors.
Overall, the link between aging and MSDs is not clear, says Van Eerd.
We think age is just one of many factors to address when it comes to reducing MSDs.