An analysis of federal statistics finds that older people are dying on the job at a higher rate than workers overall, despite a general decrease in the number of workplace fatalities.
According to the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 35 percent of fatal workplace accidents in 2015 involved an employee who was 55 or above. That’s about 1,700 out of a total of just over 4,800 fatalities reported nationally. Researchers consider the findings alarming, especially as large numbers of baby boomers are choosing to continue to work past 65, the traditional age of retirement.
The data suggest that the overall rate of workplace fatalities was down 22 percent between 2006 and 2015. But for older workers, the fatality rate was more than 50 percent higher than for all workers. During that period, there was an increase of about 37 percent in older people in the workplace, compared with a 6 percent rise in the overall working population.
Many strategies to prevent older workers from injury and death are the same as those recommended for protecting workers of any age. For example, measures to prevent slips, trips, and falls benefit younger and older workers alike.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) offers the following recommendations for keeping older workers safe:
- Match tasks to abilities. If older workers have physical limitations, assign them to tasks that do not require them to strain beyond their ability.
- Manage hazards. When assessing workplace hazards, consider whether conditions that might be safe for younger employees could pose a problem for older workers. For example, a noisy environment might not bother a 25-year-old, but an older person in the same setting might have difficulty hearing and communicating with coworkers about risks and other issues.
- Consider ergonomics. Design work environments that address ergonomic concerns. Examples include better illumination where needed, screens and surfaces that produce a minimum of glare, ergonomic workstations and tools, and adjustable seating.
- Invest in training and skill-building. Encourage workers to learn from one other, with older individuals serving as mentors, and younger people teaching elder co-workers how to use and adapt to new technologies.
- Proactively manage reasonable accommodations and the return-to-work process after an injury or illness-related absence.
- Train supervisors on the issues associated with an aging workforce and the best ways to address them.