Older Workers Effect on Workers’ Comp Injuries and Costs

By Denise Johnson | January 25, 2016

Employment of workers aged 65 or older grew by 101 percent between 1997 and 2007, while employment of individuals 75 and older increased by 172 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By 2020, one in four Americans will be over the age of 55 and currently, one in every five American workers is over 65, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Several factors are motivating employees to stay on the job longer, according to a 2013 Lockton report on the baby boomer effect on workers’ compensation. These factors include: a longer life expectancy due to improved medical treatment and healthcare, financial necessity, lack of qualified workers as well job satisfaction. In the report, Bill Spiers, vice president and risk control services manager at Lockton, wrote that the desire to remain productive may be the most important factor to older workers.

And while the frequency of occupational injuries declines as a worker ages, the injuries that do occur are more likely to be severe, even fatal, for those who are older, increasing most dramatically around age 60, according to the BLS.

For example, according to NIOSH analysis of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, roadway crashes are the leading cause of work-related deaths for older workers in the U.S. Between 1992 and 2002 (the latest figures available), close to 3,200 workers 55 years and older died in motor vehicle crashes on public highways and accounted for 22 percent of all occupational fatalities within this age group. Other leading causes of deaths to older workers were falls (14 percent), non-highway motor vehicle crashes (12 percent), and homicide (11 percent).

As they age, older workers develop disabilities or existing disabilities become more evident, according to the Department of Labor.

A 2014 Marsh brief on managing workers’ compensation exposures as the workforce ages, referenced several factors such as comorbidities, like obesity or diabetes, that could lead to an increase in claims costs and risk as well as extend recovery times.

According to Safety National, older workers’ injury recovery time may be prolonged – an average of 13 days longer and chronic pre-existing conditions can make treatment more complex. As a result, the workers’ compensation insurer suggests that the severity of accidents increases as related to the aging process compounded by pre-existing health conditions.

Spiers authored a report on the subject which stated “studies and initial financial metrics provide strong empirical evidence that injuries to an aging workforce are real, significant and will continue to be a driving factor in increased employee injury costs over the next 10 to 20 years.”

As workers ages, the body begins to break down no matter how healthy they appear. Older workers experience more incidents of strains and sprains in moderate- and high-manual labor jobs, states the Lockton report. As a result, workers’ compensation costs are significantly higher as age increases.

Mentally, there is a slowing of information processing as one gets older which could lead to workers forgetting safety procedures and best practices.

The DOL advises employers to implement a variety of workplace practices, such as wellness programs, changes in job design and ergonomics which can reduce the demands of a job in order to retain talented, aging workers.

And in order to address the issues relating to aging workers, NIOSH recently launched its National Center for Productive Aging and Work. The “virtual center,” will focus on worker safety as well as advance the concept of “productive aging.”

“Either by necessity or by choice, Americans are working longer than ever before. Our new center will focus on advancing the best ways to both address the needs and challenges of aging workers, and recognize the benefits of an aging workforce,” said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. “Optimizing working conditions to match the reality that every worker is aging, from the first day on the job to the last, is essential. If our nation is to maximize its economic potential and keep workers safe and healthy, we must make this area of research a top priority.”

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