Are Older Workers More At-Risk of a Worksite Injury?

Are Older Workers More At-Risk of a Worksite Injury?Older workers can get hurt at work for a number of different reasons, and in a number of different ways. Your age, however, has nothing to do with your right to file for workers’ compensation benefits in Delaware. Contact Silverman, McDonald & Friedman at our Wilmington, Newark, and Seaford offices.

Today, many older workers are working longer because life expectancy is longer, they like their jobs and do not want to rush into retirement, they need the money, and for other reasons. While people may assume that older workers are at increased risk of being injured in the workplace, the data says that’s not true. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), older workers are less likely to suffer serious injuries on the job than younger workers are, but they are more likely to sustain fatal injuries. The BLS also found:

  • Older workers need more time to recover from a workplace accident. On average, older workers (55 and older) need 10 days to recover while younger workers need 6 days to recover.
  • For older workers who suffer fractures:
    • 16% of all disabling conditions were due to fractures – for workers 65 and older.
    • 10% of all disabling conditions were due to fractures – for workers 55-64.
    • Only 6% of all disabling conditions were due to fractures – for workers younger than 65.
  • One-fourth of workers 55 and older who were fatally injured worked in the farming sector. The following sectors accounted for 10% each of all deaths of workers 55 and older:
    • Sales
    • Truck driving
    • Executive jobs

One reason why older workers may be more likely to suffer a fatal injury is because many are already living with pre-existing conditions which could be exacerbated by work. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), two of the most common health problems for older workers are arthritis and hypertension; the first could increase the risk of an injury while doing physical labor, and the second could increase the risk of heart attack or stroke. Nearly 75% of workers older than 55 have at least one chronic health problem, per the CDC, and some of those conditions – like diabetes – can be incredibly costly.

Of course, the medical costs associated with these conditions are often at the root of why so many older people keep working long past the time they should have been able to retire.

Why are older workers less likely to suffer a serious injury at work?

The negative images so many people have of older workers are actually their strengths in the workplace.

  • Older workers have more experience and training. They understand the machinery and equipment their company uses. Older workers are often more likely to take safety measures such as wearing protective clothing, following OSHS and company safety protocols, and asking questions if there are safety concerns.
  • Risk taking. Younger workers generally take more risks than older workers, because their youth makes them think they’re not vulnerable to injuries or disease. A more cautious approach can help workers avoid accidents.
  • Less strenuous work. Older workers are often assigned to administrative jobs, which are generally less physically demanding than the physical labor tasks younger workers perform. While certain office positions may increase the risk od tendonitis or carpal tunnel, they reduce (or eliminate) almost all of the risk of catastrophic accidents, like falling off ladders or being crushed by machinery.

Can employers fire an older worker who gets injured on the job?

No, they cannot. Older workers who are injured on the job have just as much of a right to collect workers’ compensation as younger workers do – and they cannot be denied their benefits simply because they are old. If an employer threatens an older employee with termination or other retaliatory actions because that employee files for workers’ compensation, the employer is in violation of federal and state laws.

Firing a worker simply for being “old” is also illegal. That is age discrimination. Supporting older workers is a requirement of both the Age Discrimination Employment Act of 1967 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. These laws prohibit discrimination in hiring, firing, and the promotion of older workers based on their age or a disability.

How can employers help protect their older workers from harm?

Following the letter of the law is just the starting point. Many companies who work with older workers take proactive steps to utilize the skills of older workers while also protecting them from physical harm. The CDC recommends that employers and employees consider these practical solutions to helping older workers:

  • Workplace flexibility. Workplace flexibility such as giving an older worker input on work conditions, work location, job tasks, and work schedule can help reduce the risk of injuries
  • Match a worker’s task to their abilities. Less repetitive tasks are advisable. Self-paced work and self-directed rest breaks help older workers too.
  • Avoid too much sitting. It’s not good for any worker, especially older workers to sit all day. Sit/stand workstations and walking workstations may help, but allowing employees to simply stand up, stretch, and move around a bit is just as helpful.
  • Reduce physical hazards including the possibility of slipping hazards. Maintaining a safe workspace is crucial for all employees, no matter what age they are. Falls are the leading cause of death for people aged 65 and older, and ensuring that floors are safe – and dangerous areas are cordoned off – is important. Companies can also prevent workplace injuries by installing handrails in bathrooms and for all stairs, addressing uneven flooring, and replacing laminate and tile floors with vinyl or carpet.
  • Consider ergonomics. Bad chairs are the worst – and everyone knows it. Employers can help protect workers by ordering ergonomic chairs as well as ergonomic keyboards and mouse rests, and installing blue light protective screens over their monitors, can help reduce stress on the body and vision fatigue.

The CDC also recommends that employers encourage time for well checkups and other doctor visits, encourage and train older workers with new technology, and “proactively manage reasonable accommodations and the return-to-work process after illness or injury absences.”

At Silverman, McDonald & Friedman, our Delaware workers’ compensation lawyers represent employees who suffer any type of workplace injury. To discuss your workers’ compensation case, no matter your age, call us at 302.888.2900 or complete our contact form to speak with our attorneys at our offices in Wilmington, Newark, and Seaford.