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ARCHIVE >  August 2013 Issue >  Management > 

The View On Older Workers Is Changing

Workers are staying at jobs longer, creating a workforce with an average age that is older than before. Workers are retiring later in life and staying on their jobs longer. This trend, in a workforce with increasingly older workers, is a major concern for those in the health and safety field due to the common knowledge that older workers are more prone to suffer injuries which can prove expensive to a workplace. But this may not necessarily be true, according to new research from the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI). If not changing the definition of "older worker," at least this new NCCI should change how those workers are viewed in terms of age.

The NCCI studied different age groups in the workplace and the rates at which they were injured. This research found that younger workers, those younger than 35 years old, had substantially more cuts on their fingers compared to older workers, those over 35 years of age, who suffered more cases of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and more cervical injuries, although the numbers of the different maladies were startlingly similar.

Age vs. Injuries
If it is not true then, according to this research, that more injuries occur because workers are older, what about the costs of the different injuries? The research shows that there is a substantial cost difference between younger and older workers, but the split isn't necessarily where it might be expected. The research showed that younger workers, between the ages of 20 and 24, suffer much lower health-related costs and fewer days out of work than older workers. But once they reach 35 years of age, the health-related costs of workers older than 35 years of age are similar to the health-related costs of older workers.

Of course, making use of this study requires that the meaning of "older worker" is fully understood and that it refers to someone over 35 years of age and not the traditional "over 65" age group. For businesses and managers, it means that mambers of this relatively large group of workers (those over 35 years of age) are susceptible to the same approximate rate of on-the-job injury and that a focus should be placed on trying to reduce the costs of injuries for as many workers as possible.

Injury Prevention
Injury prevention for employees should begin before they become employees — during the hiring process. A clear, functional description should be written for any position that is open so that the requirements for that position are fully understood by both the employer and the job candidate. Any candidate selected for the position should be given a conditional offer of employment by means of the written job description/offer. The document is a bona fide job offer, but can be withdrawn if a candidate is not physically and/or mentally capable of fulfilling the requirements of the job as detailed in the written description.

Once the candidate has completed the written job description/offer, the employer can have the candidate go to a physician to complete a post-job-offer, pre-placement medical questionnaire. This allows the doctor to ask questions relevant to the job offer and to report to the employer whether the candidate is fit for that position to be filled. If the candidate is fit, he/she is ready to start training. If not, the job search for that position must continue.

Once new employees are on the job, they should be mindful of how they approach their position and how well and safely they are doing the job. Many more injuries are caused in the workplace by unsafe acts on the part of employees than by unsafe conditions in the workplace. For example, an employee that feels rushed or is racing the clock is more likely to ignore safety for the sake of meeting a deadline; behavior and decision-making can result in accidents that could have been avoided.

Properly Trained Workforce
By taking the proper steps to establish a workforce that is properly trained and fit to perform their jobs safely, the attention can turn on what to do should an accident happen and an employee is injured. No one anticipates getting hurt at the workplace, but every employee should know who to contact in the event of an injury. Reporting injuries as soon as possible is a key to keeping injury costs as low as possible. Studies have shown that the costs of a workplace injury increase with any delay in reporting the injury. A wise policy is to report any employee injury before the end of a work shift. Once the injury is reported, getting the proper treatment is critical.

Proper treatment can come from having a relationship with an occupational medical provider close to the workplace. For a given location, board-certified occupational doctors can be found on the Internet at www.acoem.org. Even when an occupational medical specialist cannot be found for the business, a relationship can be developed with a physician, and injured employees can be sent to that doctor for treatment.

By having a relationship with a WorkComp specialist medical provider, a business manager can ensure that the doctor knows the type of work being performed at their workplace and the physical demands that those employees must endure. Such a medical provider can also be informed of the type of transitional work that is available for employees who have been injured and are coming back to the workplace. A doctor is more willing to send an employee back to work when the doctor knows that transitional work is available for that employee, and that the employee doesn't have to come back to the stress of a full-time position upon returning from an injury.

Back to Full-Time
Most employees returning to work will be less concerned with legal matters and attorneys and more interested in working to earn back their full-time position. The process of speeding an injured employee's return to the workplace can not only help employee morale, but can also reduce the amount of money spent by an insurance company on employee injuries, helping to reduce payroll modification costs during injuries and helping to reduce workers' compensation insurance costs.

The workforce on average is getting older and employers must be more mindful of the needs of older workers as part of a realistic workforce. The new NCCI research should provide some guidance to employers on what can drive down injury rates and the costs of injuries, such as hiring the right people for a job, providing them with the training to perform their jobs safely and, when an accident does occur, making sure that the accident is reported immediately and treated by a skilled physician who will send them back to work if they are capable of working and won't simply send them home. For employers who follow these steps, having older, experienced workers on the payroll can be a great asset rather than a potential liability.


Contact: Institute of WorkComp Professionals, P. O. Box 5437, Asheville, NC 28813; 828-274-0959, E-mail: Kevin@workcompprofessionals.com  

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