Rhonda Mulder

Age has its advantages and disadvantages on the jobsite, and younger and “more experienced” guys have always ribbed each other about who is more productive, fit, and safe. Remodeling company owners wonder the same — not only because they care about safety, but also because the economy has magnified the cost of downtime due to injury or illness.

Having worked in the field at both stages (I am 53), as an employee and also as an owner-operator, I have some perspective on the debate.

First, some facts. Older workers’ labor-force participation has been rising since the late 1980s, and declines in the real estate and financial markets have accelerated that trend. Interestingly, workers between 20 and 24 have the highest rate of injury claims, and workers 65 and older have the lowest, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Second, safety is safety. Everyone should observe it, regardless of age. Carpenters of every age are prone to injury, but for different reasons. Thoughts on combining the best of both age groups:

  • Think safety. Here’s one place where the old guys can teach the young. Many young carpenters believe themselves to be invincible, put on a front of “manliness,” and take stupid risks that lead to preventable accidents. Older carpenters tend to be more concerned with their comfort than impressing others.
  • Pace yourself. Again, points to the old guys. They know what their limits are. Rather than risk injury, they often find safer means to accomplish the same tasks. Necessity is the mother of invention. Many young carpenters (contrary to popular belief) will drive themselves to work hard, often to an unsafe degree, such as lifting heavy loads without asking for help.
  • Take precautions. Besides having greater strength and endurance, younger carpenters can more quickly bounce back from strained elbows or pulled muscles. By far the most common source of injury to older workers is falls, slips, and trips. Simple antidotes to these risks are slip-free and unobstructed floors, good lighting, well-marked elevation differences, and readily available ladders and stepstools.

—Tim Faller is president of Field Training Services and author of The Lead Carpenter Handbook. www.leadcarpenter.com.