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Workplace safety experts are keeping an eye out for a potential rise in post-retirement injuries due to the number of retired workers taking on part-time jobs and a continued increase in the number of older employees in the U.S. workforce.
Employers should be aware that an older workforce may be more vulnerable to certain types of injuries and be prepared to accommodate these workers, experts say.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that workers ages 55 and older will make up 25.6% of the workforce in the United States by the year 2022.
“Due to a number of factors, many Americans are working later in life, with some even returning to the workforce after an initial retirement,” said David Quezada, Los Angeles-based vice president of loss control services at Employers Holdings Inc., a workers compensation provider for small businesses in the U.S.
Their reliability and the work experience that older workers bring to the job can be a selling point to employers, according to experts.
“A lot of employers are actually targeting older employees who are past the traditional retirement age for a variety of reasons, one being that they find that those that are still interested in being in the labor force tend to be very reliable because they are very motivated to be in the labor force, and also there is the ability to employ them on a part-time basis without a need to provide benefits because of the safety net of Medicare,” said Michael Rosetti, Atlanta-based partner for workers compensation law at Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hiers L.L.P.
“The whole knowledge base is different between the new worker and retired worker,” said Tom Scherrer, St. Louis-based loss control consultant for The Cornerstone Insurance Group. “They bring with them a lot of knowledge and experience. Whether or not they bring that to this current job is hard to say.”
There tends to be fewer injuries among older workers, but this has more to do with “tenure in their current positions” than age, said Amy Harper, Seattle-based director for workplace safety initiatives at the National Safety Council. However, injuries to older workers tend to be more severe and have lasting effects, according to experts.
“The severity is due to the aging; our bodies are breaking down in many different ways,” said Mr. Scherrer.
“When incidents do occur, what may be a minor injury for a 30-something may have a greater impact on a worker who is 55 or older. For instance, if you fall when you are 20 years old, you will most likely get a bruise, but at 60 years old, the same fall could cause a broken leg or hip,” said Mr. Quezada.
According to a survey published in 2016 by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that researches retirement, 3% of people said they are pursuing another career post-retirement, and 2% said they will continue working in the same field that they currently work in post-retirement. The center surveyed over 2,000 U.S. retirees ages 50 and older.
In 2016, 35.7 million people who are age 55 and older said they are part of the civilian labor force while 7.5 million people who are 55 and older said that they work part-time, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2016, there were 2.9 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported to the bureau by private industry employers.
Workers of all ages are more likely to be injured in the first three weeks of a new position, according to Ms. Harper. “They are new to the surroundings, they are new to the procedures, and they may not have been fully trained in those first three weeks because there may be a portion of on-the-job learning that is taking place,” she said.
However, some safety concerns for older workers in part-time jobs can stem from employers’ over-reliance on their experience in lieu of safety training and education.
“Some employers might view the older workers from the point of view that ‘they know what they are doing, they are old enough, we will focus our training on the younger worker.’ In reality, they need to include everybody,” said Mr. Scherrer.
Work-related injuries can happen to workers of any age, but experts say there are some workplace safety considerations that employers should address when employing older workers.
“Older workers may be more susceptible to rotator cuff and knee injuries as a result of lifting, carrying, slipping and falling,” Mr. Quezada said. “Other effects of aging like hearing or vision loss can dramatically increase workplace injuries. Hearing loss, for example, could prevent an older worker from hearing a warning that a forklift has headed their way. Some older workers may experience decreased reaction time or balance.”
Employers can keep older workers safe by making accommodations for them.
“You can choose slower, more selfpaced work for older workers,” Ms. Harper said. “They need more rest breaks, less repetitive tasks so they are not taxing their body with repetition. If they can avoid static posture that’s better for them. Make sure that the lighting is adequate — older workers can be more susceptible to glare; adjustable seating ... if they are seated for this position.”
People in the United States are working past retirement age — a trend driven by both positive and negative factors.