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State of Safety: Changing Demographics

For years, the number of older workers on the job has been increasing, and that number is expected to continue to rise in the near future.

Older workers bring with them a wealth of knowledge from their years of experience. But they also bring increased risk of on-the-job fatalities and severe injuries. If employers want to stem the potential tide of life-threatening and costly incidents among aging workers, the time to act is now.

“The demographics are changing,” said Ken Kolosh, manager of statistics for the National Safety Council. “With increased prevalence of older workers, most employers do realize this reality is not going away.”

The Rise
By 2022, about one-quarter of all workers are expected to be 55 or older, according to Mitra Toossi, an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections. Toossi has written several papers on older workforce projections. These projections are based on two data sets: BLS population projections and BLS workforce participation rates.

The increased proportion of older workers is due in large part to the baby-boom generation: adults born between 1946 and 1964 – the period after World War II that saw increased birth rates in the United States…

…“People live longer lives. They live healthier lives, so those who have jobs just cling onto the jobs and they don’t want to give it up,” Toossi said.

The Fall
So what effect do aging workers have on workplace safety?

In most cases, older workers are less likely to be injured on the job. BLS data shows that in 2014, workers 65 and older experienced 94.2 injuries or illnesses per 10,000 full-time workers – the lowest out of all age groups, and lower than the rate of 107.1 for all worker populations….

Research has indicated that, beginning at middle age, adults start to accumulate more emotional stability and emotional intelligence, according to Juliann Scholl, a NIOSH health communication fellow. This suggests that older workers not only know how to avoid certain risks, but also are more willing to speak up or point out patterns that could lead to injuries, Scholl said.

However, this doesn’t hold true for all injuries. The incidence rate of slips, trips and falls for workers 65 and older – 49.5 per 10,000 workers – is about double the rate of workers younger than 45. Additionally, older workers take longer than their younger counterparts to recover from injuries and return to the job. The median days away from work in 2014 steadily increased with each age group, beginning with four days for 16- to 19-year-old workers and rising to 17 days for workers 65 and older….(Read entire article)

Kyle Morrison