Stay at it: Expanded interview with Mary Borg and Gary Morgan, CDT, Issue 3

SafeLink Consulting provides dental labs with the information they need to meet OSHA regulations and to prepare for FDA inspections, as well as providing consultation and advice on running the business profitably and safely. SafeLink President Mary A.

SafeLink Consulting provides dental labs with the information they need to meet OSHA regulations and to prepare for FDA inspections, as well as providing consultation and advice on running the business profitably and safely. SafeLink President Mary A. Borg (MB) and Senior VP Gary Morgan, CDT, (GM) spoke to DLP for the March 2012 Forward Trends article, Stay at it. Here is an expanded version of that interview.

Q: As the employees in the dental industry age, what should lab owners and technicians do differently in terms of safety issues? Where can they go for additional information on this?

MB: There seem to be fewer injuries in older workers, however, when there is an injury it is more severe so ensure that you have good safety practices in place and you‘re enforcing them. Medical costs and premiums for workers’ compensation insurance may rise with an older workforce. Older workers don’t recover as quickly as a younger worker from an injury or medical condition so plan how you will handle the absence of an older worker.

GM: Older employees may experience diminishing physical capabilities that must be addressed so as not to put them at risk of musculoskeletal disorders. Ergonomic issues may increase. Accommodations for loss of hearing, sight, and motor skills may need to be made so that older workers are protected. Invest in good furnishings that would include ergonomically designed workbenches with arm rests and chairs with good back support.

MB: OSHA, the National Safety Council and AARP provide resources on the aging workforce and what businesses should consider. AARP has a Workplace Assessment Tool that businesses can use to help with assessing their readiness of dealing with an ageing workforce. Of course, SafeLink Consulting provides health and safety consulting to assist an employer with all safety issues specific to the equipment and materials used in dental labs.

Q: What advice can you offer lab owners and technicians to help extend their careers?

MB: Pay attention to your health by exercising, stop smoking, lose weight (if you’re overweight) and take vaccines for pneumonia, influenza, and zoster (shingles). Even though statistics show that productivity increases with an older workforce, the risk of infections increase. Use all engineering controls, administrative controls and personal protective equipment that your employer provides. Understand thoroughly the hazards of the equipment and chemicals that you’re using in your job and take the necessary precautions for safe use.

Another piece of advice to lab owners is to provide a more flexible work schedule for older workers. The trend seems to be for older workers to stop work completely and then return rather than work part time.

GM: Integrate ergonomic work habits into your job. A workplace that promotes employee safety helps ensure that employees stay healthy. Protect yourself from injury and illnesses which can become chronic. Create a workplace that values employee health and safety. Offer wellness programs and initiatives that promote health. Encourage exercise, through activities at work and benefits such as gym memberships.

Q: Have you noticed a more aging customer base? Do you anticipate working with an older workforce going forward as opposed to the way things may have been prior to the tough economic times?

MB: I haven’t noticed as many lab owners and older technicians retiring as I saw 15 years ago. It seems that the age of 60 may be the old 50 so we will see technicians working to age 70 and older. There aren’t as many sons and daughters of lab owners interested in the business. That age group appreciates a better work/life balance and just aren’t willing to put in all the hours that the older age group has grown up doing.

Yes, we will be working with an older workforce, but due to new technology and the change in business models for many dental labs, younger people are more interested in the technology side of the industry so hopefully that will provide people to take over when all the retirement begins. The younger workers though lack the knowledge of older workers. A lab owner could consider removing some of the physical stressors and hazards from the ageing worker by changing the job duties from physical to mental through mentoring that I mentioned above.

GM: While there definitely is an older workforce, I anticipate with new technologies that younger workers can be attracted to the industry. Older workers may not easily adapt to the new technology. The skill sets will encourage a younger workforce. Labs will differ based on their philosophy, so some will definitely be older while some will move to the younger employee base.

Q: What advice can you offer to lab owners considering expansion/remodeling of facilities in terms of ensuring the safety of their lab and their employees?

MB: Due to technology, it appears that less space is required, therefore, investment in ergonomically designed furnishings for the CAD/CAM equipment and proper ventilation due to heat produced by this equipment are critical to the design of a new lab. When workbenches are purchased make sure they are ergonomically designed and have arm or wrist rests to relieve pressure on the arms. There are even workbenches available that raise up and down to accommodate the height of workers. Good chairs and good lighting are critical in the new work environment.

Worker’s compensation claims for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are very expensive, so a lab that doesn’t pay attention to ergonomics for their workers will find themselves with very high work comp claims. Older workers can be affected by this, but the younger workforce also needs to be protected. Typically, MSDs occur over a long period of time.

GM: Always think about safety issues and plan for them when remodeling or expansion. Get help, either through OSHA (on your own) or SafeLink. An outside eye will look at the concerns with a safety first attitude and can guide everyone to a safe and healthy facility.