Age, human performance, and physical employment standards
The proportion of older workers has increased substantially in recent years, with over 25% of the Canadian labour force aged ≥55 years. Along with chronological age comes age-related declines in functional capacity associated with impairments to the cardiorespiratory and muscular systems. As a result, older workers are reported to exhibit reductions in work output and in the ability to perform and/or sustain the required effort when performing work tasks. However, research has presented some conflicting views on the consequences of aging in the workforce, as physically demanding occupations can be associated with improved or maintained physical function. Furthermore, the current methods for evaluating physical function in older workers often lack specificity and relevance to the actual work tasks, leading to an underestimation of physical capacity in the older worker. Nevertheless, industry often lacks the appropriate information and/or tools to accommodate the aging workforce, particularly in the context of physical employment standards. Ultimately, if appropriate workplace strategies and work performance standards are adopted to optimize the strengths and protect against the vulnerability of the aging workers, they can perform as effectively as their younger counterparts. Our aim in this review is to evaluate the impact of different individual (including physiological decline, chronic disease, lifestyle, and physical activity) and occupational (including shift work, sleep deprivation, and cold/heat exposure) factors on the physical decline of older workers, and therefore the risk of work-related injuries or illness.