Protecting older workers during COVID-19 

Workers over the age of 65 are at high risk of contracting COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This group’s higher incidence of preexisting conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension, makes them more vulnerable to coronavirus complications. Those over age 65 who get the virus are five to 13 times more likely to be hospitalized than adults 18-29.

Colorado has a fast-growing population of residents over age 65 — so fast, in fact, that its growth outpaces all but two states. 

This age group represents the workforce segment expanding most rapidly nationwide, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which projects its employment will surge by more than 50% from 2014 to 2024. 

These essential older workers bring valuable experience and knowledge to their jobs. So how can Colorado businesses keep these workers safe amid the global pandemic?  

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in June that businesses could “provide flexibility” for workers over 65 to help protect them, yet employers also must avoid ageism, as changes meant to protect older workers can sometimes be seen as discriminatory.

Before making adjustments that impact only older workers:

Supervisors should talk to these employees to gauge their preferences. Some workers may not want to be treated differently, while others may want these alternatives. 

Of course, adding precautions for older workers has the additional benefit of protecting your whole staff amid the pandemic. 

Here are 10 tips for keeping older workers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

1. Follow mask guidance.

The governor’s mask mandate says masks must be worn in all indoor spaces, which could slow the spread of COVID-19. Younger employees should wear masks too — they protect the wearer and those near them by trapping droplets that escape from mouths and noses when we breathe and speak. These droplets can spread the virus.

2. Conduct employee screenings. 

All Colorado businesses with more than 50 employees in one location must screen workers for symptoms. 

Institute a screening station or create a business policy that requires employees to self-screen at home each workday and report results to you before entering the worksite. 

Send home anyone with symptoms such as a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or above, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, nausea or vomiting. 

Download the employee health screening tool for additional guidance.

3. Tell sick workers to take sick days. 

Missing a day of work could mean less pay or losing a chance to earn tips or incentives, so many people are reluctant to take sick days. But older workers must stay away from people who might have the virus, so urge workers exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms to stay home. 

4. Adjust working hours and locations. 

Let older employees cover their shifts earlier or later in the day so they’re exposed to fewer people. You could also allow them to work from home, if possible. 

5. Change duties.

Switch older employees to back-office jobs where they interact with fewer people, but present this change as a choice, since some workers may enjoy their current positions and may not want to change.

6. Assist with transportation. 

Older workers who use public transit to get to work could be exposed to someone with COVID-19. 

Work with the employee to facilitate a different option. 

7. Post signs reminding everyone to wash their hands frequently.

Give employees regular breaks for handwashing. 

8. Disinfect surfaces between shifts. 

Deep-clean frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, phones, keyboards, sinks, faucets and toilets before a new team begins work.

9. Let employees work outside when possible. 

The risk of transmitting the virus decreases outside, and many workers can perform their tasks outdoors well into the fall. 

10. Hold meetings virtually. 

While your whole workforce may be back at the office, gatherings with multiple people in one room make social distancing difficult. If you must hold an in-person meeting, skip the food and beverages, since they require removing masks. 

Looking for additional ways to keep high-risk workers safe?

Contact a Pinnacol safety consultant to discuss how to protect vulnerable workers during the pandemic. 

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