Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities among Older Workers: Americans Are Living Longer Than Ever before and Many Are Staying in the Workforce Past Age 55; Although Older Workers Experience Similar Events Leading to Injury, They Sustain More Severe Injuries Than Their Younger Counterparts and Require More Days Away from Work to Recover

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities among Older Workers: Americans Are Living Longer Than Ever before and Many Are Staying in the Workforce Past Age 55; Although Older Workers Experience Similar Events Leading to Injury, They Sustain More Severe Injuries Than Their Younger Counterparts and Require More Days Away from Work to Recover

Article excerpt

Older workers face many of the same workplace hazards as do other workers; the most prevalent events leading to job-related injuries or fatalities are falls, assaults, harmful exposures, or transportation incidents. But in many cases, the nature of the injury suffered by an older worker is more severe than that suffered by younger workers. Older workers who suffer a workplace injury may experience longer recovery periods than their younger counterparts. And older workers die from workplace injuries at a higher rate than do younger workers. This analysis focuses on occupational injuries, illnesses, and fatalities among older workers, and identifies differences in the severity of the events as a result of age.

Americans are living longer than ever before, and increasing numbers of older Americans are working. These facts have led to expanded interest in the activities of older Americans, and their work life. Americans born at the beginning of the 21st century can expect to live an average of 77 years, an increase of 9 years, compared with persons born a half century ago. Those aged 65 in 2000 can expect to live 18 years. Considering age 65 to be a typical retirement age, individuals can expect to live nearly 2 additional decades. Both the need to feel productive and the need for income may lead these older Americans to work during what are typically considered retirement years. (1)

Further, the cohort of older Americans is getting larger. There are currently 35 million Americans aged 65 and older, and another 28 million age 55-64. The baby-boom generation, those born in the years following World War II, are currently in their early 40s to late 50s. Over the next 20 years, the percent of Americans aged 65 and older will grow from the current 12 percent of the population to 21 percent. Clearly there is much interest in this group.

Sixty percent of those aged 55-64 are in the labor force; 14 percent of those aged 65 and older are in the labor force. For many years, starting in the 1960s, these percentages have declined, the result perhaps of available retirement income benefits from a variety of sources. But that trend has turned around in recent years, and the percent of older Americans in the labor force has been increasing. This may be due to changes in the Social Security retirement age, which requires individuals to work longer to receive full benefits. Another possible reason for an increase in older workers in the labor force is the need for increased income to pay medical and other expenses. Older Americans work in a variety of industries, but have large concentrations in education, health services, and wholesale and retail trade.

But the need to work does not come without potential hazards. This article explores recent data on workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatalities among older workers. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses and Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries provide a wide range of information about the events that led to an injury, illness, or fatality, the demographics of the workers involved, and the types of occupations and industries where these incidents occur. (2)

The Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses provides the number of workplace injuries and illnesses and the rate of such incidents, based on full-time equivalent workers. Data are available for most private industry workers. For those cases that involve days away from work, which are generally considered the most serious cases, the survey also provides detailed demographic data on the worker involved and detailed characteristics of the case, such as the event that precipitated the incident and the part of body affected.

The Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries provides counts of the number of workplace fatalities and the rate of such incidents per worker. Data include private industry, governments, the residential military, and the self-employed. …

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