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Older Employees and Workers’ Compensation

By January 27, 2010Commentary

Less than 3% of the workforce is over age 65, but the percent of persons in that age bracket who are working has increased from 11% in the late 1980s to almost 17% today.  The recent recession and fall in the value of investment portfolios means there will be even more older workers.  NCCI, a national support services and research group for workers’ compensation plans, has issued a research brief looking at the characteristics of workers’ comp claims for these older workers.   (NCCI Study) These employees tend to have a lower overall rate of claims, lower indemnity, or lost wage, severity, but higher medical severity.

Almost half the accidents involving these older workers relate to falls and slips, as compared to less than 30% for younger workers. This is consistent with the significant fall-related costs incurred by Medicare.  On the other hand, older workers have significantly fewer back strain injuries, probably because they are working in jobs involving less lifting or other manual labor.  The elderly worker has a lower average indemnity, or wage loss, claim, probably because they are working in lower paying jobs and often working part-time.  Median time away from work is higher for these older employees, but not enough to offset the effect of the lower wages.  The average medical claim is about 26% higher for the over-65 staff.

Employers have done an outstanding job of improving safety and reducing the number of workers’ compensation claims, aided by a change in jobs from more dangerous to less dangerous occupations.  Older workers appear to have a unique set of accident vulnerabilities, especially in regard to falls, which presents an opportunity for employers to focus additional safety measures at preventing these injuries.  As with overall workers’ comp claims, this focus on safety will likely have a very substantial payback and will improve quality of life for the older employees who would avoid serious injuries.

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