We can blame the push of the retirement age for full Social Security benefits. We can also blame the shift from pensions and definitive retirement incentives to 401(k) plans. But sometimes there’s nothing to blame. Sometimes, workers actually have the desire to keep working, and do so well past the retirement age.
For previous generations, it was considered normal to retire at the age of 55. But for those born between 1946 and 1964, it is now perfectly acceptable to continue working well past 60. By 2022, at least a quarter of all workers are expected to be 55 or older. And it’s definitely a positive to keep men on the job longer. With the exception of typical injuries like slips, trips, and falls, workers over the age of 45 have an overall lower rate of injury than any other age group. But there’s a catch. These safety-related benefits are greatly reduced in the construction industry. And why?
According to research by the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR), workers aged 65 and older had a fatality rate of 24.6 per 100,000 full-time employees, which is higher than any other age group. 580 workers aged 65 and older died on the job for reasons other than natural causes in 2008. In 2014, 656 in the same age group died on the job. The number of work-related fatalities of workers over 65 between 2013 and 2014 rose 17 percent.
“One of the good things that come from having older employees in the workforce,” writes Jill Odom for Equipment World, “is that they are less likely to be injured on the job than any other age group, with one important exception: Those 65 and older have a higher rate of slips, trips and falls. At 49.5 injuries from slips, trips, or falls per 10,000 workers, the rate of such injuries among workers 65 and older is double the rate of employees younger than 45.”
The problem is that although they had a significantly lower rate of nonfatal injuries than younger workers, older employees still spent more days out from work after those injuries. Injury recovery for workers aged 65 and up took more than four times longer than younger workers. 16- to 19-year-olds typically take about 4 days to recover from an injury, whereas workers 65 and over will take at least 17 days off from work to recover. And that’s perfectly natural. Physical conditioning simply declines as we age. But it doesn’t change the fact that the aging workforce will impact worker’s comp claims negatively as the costs are much higher.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is now researching “aging-friendly” workplaces. When we make safety improvements to protect older workers, everyone benefits. But it is still important that we all instill an appreciation of safety practices in young workers from day one.