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Risk Management Bulletin


By March 1, 2012No Comments

Focusing on the health and safety of your older workers can help reduce injury-related losses.

Health care costs, Workers Compensation spending, and worker productivity are factors that employers must consider as the nation’s workforce ages.

This is because older employees’ physical condition, such as deterioration caused by age or chronic disease, can affect how they respond to potential hazards on the job, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

The number of older workers will continue growing rapidly, as the negative effect of the recession on worker savings, employers’ desire to retain skilled workers, and rising health care costs are keeping more older employees on the job. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that workers aged 55 and older will make up nearly 25% of the workforce by 2018, up from 18.1% in 2008.

However, many employers aren’t adequately prepared or even aware of the health and safety risks that older workers present, says NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard. He notes that, although older employers are generally less likely to suffer workplace injuries, it takes longer for them to return to productivity when they do get hurt. “Employers who aren’t aware of this probably aren’t trying to manage their workforce the best that they could. In other words, they might not be looking at the health care costs of their workforce or asking what could make the work safer or healthier for older workers. Some employers don’t even know the distribution of ages of the people who work for them.”

The situation is critical today because the recession has left even fewer baby boomers financially capable of retiring, says ASSE president Terrie S. Norris. “At the same time,” she points out, “employers generally haven’t helped employees prepare for retirement adequately, while Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) are healthier and living longer than previous generations,” This longer lifespan means that more people will have to work longer.

Increasing medical costs might also force older workers to delay retirement, especially those with chronic medical conditions that can add to workplace health and safety concerns. A series of surveys by AARP over 13 years found that Boomers plan to work into their retirement years because of financial necessity, the need for health care coverage, and other factors, such as personal enrichment. The latest AARP survey, in 2008, revealed that 70% of respondents planned to work into retirement — and this was before the recession hit.

That’s why it makes sense to provide older workers with tools and work processes that reduce the probability of injuries. Our risk management professionals would be happy to offer their advice — just give us a call.