Current Research

NIOSH Research on Aging Workers

NIOSH supports studies and projects focusing on job safety and health for aging workers—of all ages. You can find information about them by searching NIOSHTIC-2, a database of occupational safety and health publications supported in whole or in part by NIOSH. NIOSHTIC-2 contains nearly 45,000 citations. You can find over 2,000 publications related to job safety and health for aging workers by searching for keywords like “aging,” “age-groups,” “age-factors,” “older workers” and “young workers.” Listed here are key findings from publications and research projects in the fields of aging, health, and workplace safety about the issues affecting older workers today, as well as current needs and barriers.

Publications Resulting from NIOSH Supported Research:

Below are examples of publications on healthy aging in the workplace:

Framework for considering productive aging and work.
This article explains the framework for the National Center for Productive Aging at Work of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. A snowball method to review published literature was used to substantiate elements in the framework. Evidence-based literature supports a productive aging framework for the workforce involving the following elements: 1) life span perspective; 2) comprehensive and integrated approaches to occupational safety and health; 3) emphasis on positive outcomes for both workers and organizations; and 4) supportive work culture for multigenerational issues.

Mental work demands, retirement, and longitudinal trajectories of cognitive functioning.
This study looks at the course of cognitive functioning before and after retirement and specifically whether job characteristics during one’s time of employment (i.e., higher vs. lower levels of mental work demands) moderate how cognition changes both before and after the transition to retirement.

Reference values for physical performance measures in the aging working population.
The aim of this study was to determine reference physical performance values in older aging workers. Normative values may underestimate physical performance in “healthy” older workers, thereby underappreciating declines in less healthy older workers.

The relationship of work, self-care, and quality of life in a sample of older working adults with cardiovascular disease.
The study describes the self-care behaviors of adherence to medication, diet, exercise, and symptom monitoring of older workers with cardiovascular disease (CVD) and explores the relationship among job characteristics (job demands, job control, and workplace support), self-care, and quality of life.

Presenteeism among older workers (> 45 years) with coronary heart disease: an integrative literature review.
The purpose of this integrative literature review was to examine presenteeism among older workers with coronary heart disease (CHD); twelve studies were reviewed. There were three key findings: 1) definitions and measurement of presenteeism and CHD diagnosis were inconsistent, 2) the primary focus was on quantifying the economic impact of presenteeism, and 3) job-level and individual-level factors that potentially influence presenteeism were not addressed.

Exploring extensions to working life: job lock and predictors of decreasing work function in older workers.
Job lock is one form of restricted job mobility that often prevents older workers from retiring. Job lock is linked to existing health and work place problems. This study explored: 1) the rate of change in work limitation for job locked and non-job locked older workers, and 2) the factors associated with these changes over a 12-month period following a work injury.

Individual and work factors related to perceived work ability and labor force outcomes.
Perceived work ability refers to a worker’s assessment of his or her ability to continue working in his or her job, given characteristics of the job along with his or her resources. Researchers proposed and tested a conceptual model of antecedents and outcomes of perceived work ability using three independent samples of U.S. working adults.

Age in relation to worker compensation costs in the construction industry.
A better understanding of how workers’ compensation (WC) costs are affected by an aging US workforce is needed, especially for physically demanding industries, such as construction. This study evaluated the relationship between age and injury type on claim costs using a database of 107,064 Colorado WC claims filed between 1998 and 2008 among construction workers.

Farmwork-related injury among farmers 50 years of age and older in Kentucky and South Carolina: a cohort study, 2002-2005.
Farmers in the U.S. are becoming more diverse; the average age of the farmer is increasing, as is the number of women and minority farm operators. There is limited research on injury risk factors in these special populations of farmers. A longitudinal survey was conducted of farmers (n = 1,394) age 50 and older who resided in Kentucky and South Carolina.

Susceptibility of the aging lung to environmental injury.
An expanding number of studies suggest that the aging pulmonary system (>65 years) is at increased risk for adverse health effects from environmental insult, such as by air pollutants, infection, and climate change. This review provides a limited but comprehensive overview of how the lung ages, examples of environmental exposures associated with injury to the aging lung, and potential mechanisms underlying the increased vulnerability of the aging lung to injury from environmental factors.

Fatal falls among older construction workers.
This study examines recent trends and patterns in fall fatalities in the U.S. construction industry to determine whether fatal falls among older workers are different from younger workers in this industry.

Effects of foot placement, hand positioning, age, and climbing biodynamics on ladder slip outcomes.
This study aims to identify safer ladder climbing techniques and individuals at risk of falling. The results suggest that ladders with unrestricted toe clearance and ladder climbing training programs, particularly for younger and older workers, may reduce ladder slipping risk.

Age and gender moderate the effects of localized muscle fatigue on lower extremity joint torques used during quiet stance.
This study examined the effects of localized muscle fatigue, age, and gender on lower extremity joint torques used during quiet stance. The results of this study suggested that both age and gender moderate the effects of fatigue on postural control and should be considered when developing strategies to prevent occupational falls.

Workplace cohort studies in times of economic instability.
This was a prospective study directed to musculoskeletal health in the manufacturing workforce, with new instruments added to assess economic effects on retirement planning and the physical and emotional costs of caregiving responsibilities.

Occupational Highway Transportation Deaths among Workers Aged 55 Years United States, 2003-2010
This MMWR report examined highway transportation deaths amongst older workers (aged 55-64, and >65 years) compared to rates amongst workers aged 18-54.

Nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses among older workers, United States, 2009
The 2011 report summarizes occupational safety issues affecting older workers, including findings on lost workdays and rates of falls on the same level, fractures and hip injuries.

Age, work limitations and physical functioning among construction roofers
This study examined the role of aging and work limitations, chronic medical and muscle-bone conditions, and physical functioning.

Factors associated with retirement-related job lock in older workers with recent occupational injury
The study of workers 55 and older with work-related injuries examined their inability to leave a job due to financial or benefits needs (“job lock”).

NIOSH-funded Research:

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) supports research on job safety and health for aging workers. Below are the titles and short summaries of current research projects related to healthy aging in the workplace.

Intramural Research:

Developing dissemination products to prevent WMSDs in construction workers across age groups
The objective of this project is to use an evidence-based healthy-aging model to develop a suite of communication products in English and Spanish that present solutions to common work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) in the Construction sector caused by manual materials handling.

Translational products to prevent WMSDs and falls among aging retail workers
This project uses a mixed-methods approach to develop a broad range of evidence-based translational materials on aging for the retail sector. These materials will provide information and guidance for the prevention of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) and slips, trips, and falls (STFs), the two most common types of injuries experienced by retail workers.

Mechanisms of Injury and Maladaptation in a Repetitive Motion Model
This multi-year program will investigate the underlying pathogenic, biomechanical, and physiological processes associated with musculoskeletal disorders and age. These findings will help elucidate the adaptive and pathological mechanisms of repetitive motion injuries and will support the development of specific guidelines for repetitive movements in the workplace.

Training to Design Age-Friendly Workplaces for Nurses
Hospital-based nurses face a wide range of working conditions that pose increasing risks with age. An important first step in addressing these risks is to educate and train both nurses and managers regarding the effects of aging, and provide practical strategies for creating an age-friendly workplace. The current project seeks to accomplish this goal through the development of a training workshop designed specifically for nurses who work in a hospital environment. Further, this project will generate training materials to create age-friendly workplaces for hospital-based nurses.

Developing OS&H Resources for an Aging Workforce
The goal of this project is to develop educational OS&H resources to help organizations meet the challenges posed by an aging workforce. Resources will be based on data collected from a cross-section of organizations in Kentucky and will be disseminated to companies in Kentucky, as well as non-profit organizations that represent older workers throughout the United States.

Adaptive Mechanisms in an Aging Model of Musculoskeletal Skeletal Disorders
This multi-year program will focus on and investigate in a validated animal model the underlying effect the biomechanical loading signature has on the genomic, biomechanical, and physiological processes associated with MSDs and soft tissue adaptation with increasing age. Performance measures will be correlated with gene expression, cellular, biochemical, and histological/ morphological analyses. Results will have direct application to establishing performance standards in humans.

Promising Practices for Healthy Aging in the Workplace
This project seeks to identify and better understand organizational-level practices for creating an age-friendly workplace. These practices will be studied through the use of both quantitative and qualitative research methods, and findings disseminated to collaborating partners and other organizations interested in strategies for advancing the safety and health of an aging workforce.

Age-dependent Adaptation/maladaptation to muscle contractions in an in vivo mouse model
A chronic in vivo mouse dynamometer model will be used to determine whether age-associated maladaptation to muscle contractions is generalizable across rodent species and that modulation of the Akt/Phosphosinositide 3-kinase (Akt/PI3K) pathway is critical to contraction-induced adaptation/maladaption. The impact of this study will be to establish a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) model for mice, investigate the role of Akt/PI3K pathway, and indicate the extent to which modulating Akt may influence MSDs. Study results may provide support for the development and implementation of specific exercise MSD prevention/intervention programs as well as the refinement of current practices related to attenuating MSDs in the workplace.

Long Term Health and Economic Consequences of Work
In retirement, most health care costs are paid by Medicare and Medicaid, and these costs are increasing rapidly and driving a large share of the federal budget deficit problem. However, little is known about whether workers who were employed in certain occupations and industries are disproportionally contributing to the costs of health care programs because CMS does not collect detailed information on the working lives of their beneficiaries. But this knowledge is necessary in order to identify the occupations and industries where increased attention to injury and illness prevention is most needed. The goal of this project is to examine occupational exposures and their association with physical and mental health for workers 50 and older using data from the Health and Retirement Survey.

Extramural Research:

Aging, Musculoskeletal Disorders and Work Capacity
The purpose of the study is to refine and validate measurement instruments that will be useful in more extensive and prospective studies of musculoskeletal health (MSH) in the aging workforce. The anticipated major outputs are the project survey, job observation materials and protocols, qualitative site assessments (multiple focus group and interview scripts), and protocols for physical testing.

Strategies for Safety of Older Adult Farmers
The purpose of this study is to develop a consensus document based on input from farmers and interdisciplinary professionals that outlines the next steps in injury prevention strategies for older farmers. Strategies will be developed for safety that engage farmers in decision making about his/her farm work choices and injury risks that are founded on sound principles and that include input from farmers and other professionals. This is the first step toward creating injury prevention interventions that can be used by farmers and those who interact with them.

Organization of Work and Self-Care among Aging Workers with Coronary Heart Disease (CHD)
This study will identify organization- and job-level factors that predict self-care behavior among aging workers with coronary heart disease (CHD). The significance of this study lies in its potential to serve as a basis for the development of targeted interventions, aimed at both work organization and job-level factors, to improve self-care among aging workers with CHD. Implications of study results may potentially lead to recommendations for workplace policies and generate novel job accommodations that facilitate self-care within the context of work.

Aging, Neuromuscular Behavior, and Risk of Occupational Low Back Pain
This project explores the potential role of age-related changes in mechanical behaviors of the human trunk, and in the development of low back pain via their adverse effects on spine biomechanics. The project seeks to investigate and identify the relationships between aging and associated occupational diseases and injuries.

A Process for Estimating the Association of Occupational and Chronic Disease
This exploratory study aims to develop and test a generalizable process for measuring the relationship between long-term work in a particular occupation and the onset of chronic disease later in life. A secondary aim is to test the utility of that process for assessing the relationship between long-term exposure to various job characteristics and activities (e.g., handling materials) and subsequent chronic disease outcomes (e.g., arthritis).

Page last reviewed: November 16, 2018