older workers in the workforce

The work force is getting older. People are retiring later in life than ever before. This trend has been a major concern for those in the health and safety field because the common knowledge has been that older workers are more prone to suffer very expensive injuries.

However, new research from the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) has cast doubt on this conventional wisdom, or at the very least, potentially changed the definition of “older workers.” NCCI studied different age groups and the rate at which they get injured. They found younger workers (under 35) had substantially more cuts on their fingers and older workers (over 35) suffer more cases of carpal tunnel and more neck injuries, although the numbers are startlingly similar.

So, that quiets the argument about the aging work force having more injuries, but what about cost? The research shows that there is a substantial cost difference between the injuries suffered by younger and older workers, but the split isn’t necessarily where you might expect it. Workers between the ages of 20-24 create much lower costs and fewer lost-time days, but once workers reach 35, the costs of their injuries are very similar to older workers.

What does this all mean? To start with, it now largely redefines an “older worker” as someone who grew up listening to disco instead of Elvis. This means that someone over 35 – not just someone belonging to the traditional “over 65” group – now is being classified as an “older” worker. It also should prompt businesses to focus on the things that can reduce injury costs for everyone.

Early Prevention

Injury prevention for employees should begin before they even become employees, during the hiring process. Start with a written functional description for the position that is open. Once that is complete, it is critical that the candidate you select be given a conditional offer of employment. This document is a bona fide job offer with the caveat that you can withdraw the offer if he is physically or mentally unable to do the job with reasonable accommodation.

Once this is complete, have the candidate go to the doctor and complete a post-offer, pre-placement medical questionnaire. Having this completed allows a physician to ask questions relevant to the job and to let the employer know whether or not the candidate is fit for the job. If he is fit, it’s time to get started. If not, you’ll have to find another suitable candidate.

Once an employee is on the job, it is critical that he is mindful of how he is performing job tasks. Employees who feel rushed are more likely to set safety aside in the name of meeting a deadline, and those decisions result in injuries that could have been prevented.

When you take all these steps and have a work force that is fit for work and doing the job safely, then the focus turns to what happens when an accident does happen and an employee is injured.

The Changing Definition of ‘Older’ Workers
EHS Today