Aging Workers – Keeping Them Safe – August 2014

Changing social and economic factors are influencing the American workforce.  The shift is keeping older workers in the workplace longer and impacting workers’ compensation costs.

In 2008, there were 28 million workers over age 55.  By 2016, that number is estimated to be almost 40 million.  The decline in home asset values and lower returns on 401 (k)s are influencing baby boomers to continue working to accumulate additional retirement savings.

From 1994-2007, the injury rate of 45+ workers dropped to 93 injuries per 10,000 workers from 200 incidents per 10,000 workers during a similar period in prior years.  Safety improvements and efforts by business, insurers, agents and brokers influenced this positive trend.  Unfortunately the frequency improvements are being offset by significant severity increases.

1.  Baby boomers tend to have more rotator cuff and knee injuries, while younger workers experience more back and ankle sprains.  These injuries are cost drivers for higher severity among older workers.

2.  Older workers tend to require more treatments per claim, even after factoring in the mix of injury types.

3.  Conditions like diabetes and obesity are more pronounced among older workers.  These conditions can impact the healing process due to decreased blood flow and increased force being placed on an older person’s hips, knees and spine.

Managing An Aging Workforce

Strategies can be used to manage an aging workforce to help prevent work related injuries and return injured workers to work as soon as medically possible.  Consider these steps:

1.  Ensure there is a good match between each worker’s physical capabilities and the job demands.  Making job accommodations or changing their position can enhance the safety element.  Don’t wait for an injury to make these changes.

2.  Create an environment where workers feel comfortable discussing aches and pains.  Supervisors can make job adjustments to prevent costly injuries from developing.

3.  Modify jobs as changes in an older employee’s physical capabilities become apparent.  For example, decrease the amount of material handling by assigning a helper to assist the more experienced worker.

Aging workers bring many positive attributes to the workplace; loyalty, advanced skill sets and experience.  All can contribute to business success and not add to workers’ compensation insurance costs.

Reprinted article from “Focal point provided by Preferred Employers Insurance Company.

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