A balancing act: a pilot study exploring fall incident rates and the potential role of functional balance screening tools and balance programs in reducing fall incidents rates in older workers in the steel manufacturing industry
School of Medical and Health Sciences
There is limited published Australian research reviewing and assessing the application of functional balance assessment tools in the workplace and their ability to reduce fall risk among older workers. This is despite falls from a height of less than three metres accounting for 50% of fatalities for workers over the age of 45. It is well accepted that fall prevention programs for the frail elderly in community and residential settings have reduced fall incidence rates.
A pilot study was conducted in two Australian steel manufacturing facilities. Historical fall incidences were analysed and the results of a standardised functional balance test administered. An interview was conducted with participants to explore additional factors that may influence functional balance performance in the workplace.
The results obtained support other studies, in that there was an increased incidence of falls of older workers. The results of the research support further investigation and research into the value of functional balance testing in identifying at risk workers at pre-employment and during routine health monitoring to facilitate early intervention, as balance can be easily improved with a functional exercise program.
Further research opportunities include but are not limited to, expanding functional balance testing to a wider sample size to obtain further baseline data. Follow-up research is also recommended to review fall incidence rates following the implementation of a functional balance exercise program.
Older workers bring a unique set of skills, as well as a wealth of experience to the workplace. There is, however, an urgency to develop fall prevention programs that can reduce falls in older workers to improve health and safety outcomes, but also maintain and promote older worker workforce participation. It is critical that workplaces are not only prepared for the aging workforce, but also have the necessary skills and programs in place to maximise the health and safety of older workers.