Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

The Relation of Age to Workplace Injuries

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

The Relation of Age to Workplace Injuries

Article excerpt

Job risk patterns do not vary with age for temporary disabilities, but workers 65 and older are more likely to suffer permanent disabilities and fatalities; age effects are robust to controls for industry and occupation Do work-related illness and injury (job risk) rates differ significantly by age? If so, are the patterns dependent on the job-related risk in question? Are age and job risk profiles invariant to controls for workers' occupations and industries?

To answer these questions, we combined 1981 illness and injury incidence data from workers' compensation reports with exposure data from the 1980 U.S. census. These data contain detail on workers' health problems and the jobs on which they experienced the problems, thus permitting us to investigate how occupational risk varies by age, industry, and occupation. According to our research, age is positively and significantly correlated with some forms of workplace risk; job-related temporary disabilities do not vary with age, but employees age 65 and over are more likely to suffer permanent disabilities and fatalities on the job; and age effects are not simply the result of job differences between older and younger workers, because the findings prove robust to the inclusion of controls for industry, occupation, and other variables.

Illness and injury risk

Some studies hold that older workers have a lower incidence of job injuries, compared with younger workers, but tend to sustain more severe impairments when injuries do occur.' However, analysts have encountered several problems in proving this claim statistically.

One problem in assessing the age-job risk relationship is the difficulty of measuring "poor health.".sup.2 Because reports of health problems severe enough to warrant medical attention are often regarded as the most reliable indicators, this study uses data on reported illnesses and injuries, rather than workers' self assessments, to estimate the age-job risk relationship.

Another problem is that most previous studies do not test whether age and risk patterns covary statistically.3 We rectify this drawback by testing for such variances.

Also, many studies do only a cursory job of holding other factors constant. This implies that observed negative relationships between age and the incidence of jobrelated health problems may be robust to the inclusion of other variables correlated with age.' We evaluate the link between age and workplace injury and illness, controlling for occupation, industry, and several other factors.

The data

Most analysts would agree that job risk measures of most interest include incidence (frequency of cases per unit of exposure) and severity (the extent to which health and safety problems are disabling, and for how long). However, nationally representative data on occupational risk are unavailable. Therefore, we use State workers' compensation files to obtain information on the prevalence and severity of workplace illness and injury risks.' Our analysis goes beyond previous studies of age-job risk relationship, in that it asks if the patterns vary systematically with workers' age, and if the patterns hold when controlled for occupation and industry.

Some of the statistics required for our analysis are collected under the Supplementary Data System, a Federal-State cooperative venture established by the Occupational Safety and Health Act. 6 The Supplementary Data System reports incidents by type but not by exposure, so other sources must be used for exposure data. State files from the 5-percent sample of the 1980 Census of Population are employed to generate the necessary statistics on hours of work per year by age, occupation, and industry. Combined, these two data sources produce illness and injury rates per million employee hours for 6 age categories, 12 occupational groups, and 11 industry groups. Exhibit I shows the age, industry, and occupational variables used in this study, as well as the States from which data were obtained. …

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