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Tillman & Associates, Attorneys at Law

As the workforce ages, employers need to make adjustments

As American employees reach what used to be considered the retirement age of 65, many are continuing to work. In fact, the number of workers 75 and older rose by 172 percent between 1997 and 2007.

The graying workforce is partly a result of people living longer and staying healthier than in previous generations, and wanting to remain productive. For many, it's a financial necessity.

As people age, however, injuries are more likely to be serious and even fatal. If they already have a medical condition or some level of disability, it can take them longer to recover and they may require more complex medical treatment than a younger worker would. This has an impact on the amount paid in workers' compensation claims. On average, the recovery time for older workers is nearly two weeks longer than younger ones.

It makes sense that job-related injuries such as fractures and muscle strains would be more likely among older workers. In addition, as people's reflexes and cognitive abilities slow down, they may forget safety procedures or perhaps not react as quickly in dangerous situations. However, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, vehicle crashes are actually the primary cause of fatal workplace injuries in people 55 and older.

With a quarter of the American workforce predicted to be over 55 by 2020, the Department of Labor is urging employers to implement more programs to help improve the safety and health of their workers. These include improved ergonomics, job design changes and wellness programs.

Many people still have a lot of experience, skills and talent to contribute to the workforce well into their senior years and want to do so. As the director of NIOSH noted, "Optimizing working conditions to match the reality that every worker is aging, from the first day on the job to the last, is essential. If our nation is to maximize its economic potential and keep workers safe and healthy, we must make this area of research a top priority."

Some older workers may hesitate to report work-related injuries or illnesses for fear of being perceived as too old to do their job. However, it's essential to get the workers' compensation benefits to which you're entitled. Further, if a workplace danger contributed to the injury or illness, legal action may be warranted to help protect other workers.

Source: Claims Journal, "Older Workers' Effect on Workers' Comp Injuries and Costs," Denise Johnson, Jan. 25, 2016

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