| Summer 2007


Keep Older Workers Healthy and Productive
By David Wylie

Keep Older Workers Healthy and Productive

Article highlights:

  • The percentage of workers over 55 years old is growing.
  • Older workers get injured less, but their claims cost more.
  • Higher claim costs are the result of more treatment and benefits.

The American workforce is graying. Increased life expectancy, slumping portfolios and the need for medical insurance are motivating more of us to work into our "twilight years." Around 59 percent of people between the ages of 55 and 64 were in the workforce in 1997, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The percentage could grow to 67 by 2020.

If you're a business owner watching your bottom line, there is mixed news in this trend. Older workers tend to be more experienced, dependable, loyal, punctual and stable than their younger counterparts. Their good work habits make them great role models. Unfortunately, older workers can also be a challenge when it comes to controlling your workers' comp costs.

A study released by the National Council on Compensation Insurance Inc. this year showed that older workers get injured less often than younger workers. When they do get injured, however, their claims cost more. Utilization and claim duration are two of the most important factors driving higher claim costs for older workers. In layman's terms, older workers get more treatment for their injuries, and they collect benefits for longer periods.


Chart showing average claim cost on lost-time claims: Severity is directly related to age of worker Chart showing injury & illness reate per 1,000 full-time equivalent workers by age

Charts reprinted with permission of National Council on Compensation Insurance Inc.


So what's the solution? Put a hiring freeze on workers over 55 years old? That's not just bad business; it's discrimination. You can help older workers remain healthy, productive members of your workforce by taking a few simple steps.

Provide the right tools. As we age, we lose muscle strength, bone density and range of motion. Our eyes aren't as sharp as they used to be. We have a harder time keeping our posture and balance. If older workers cannot do all of the required tasks, make adjustments. For example, extra lighting and larger computer monitors make up for failing vision. Hand trucks and dollies make it easier to lift heavy loads.

Use fit for duty tests. Some employers also require applicants to take a "fit for duty" test. Work with an attorney before you implement a fit for duty test to ensure you comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act.

Be flexible. Look at your policies and procedures for ways to reduce the wear and tear on older workers. Use flexible schedules to let their bodies recover. Allow older employees to work from home if possible. Rotate tasks regularly to reduce the strain of repetitive motions. Encourage employees to leave their workstations periodically to stretch, take their eyes off the computer screen and refocus their energy. Offer phased retirement to allow employees to ease out of the workforce.

Encourage healthy lifestyles. Healthy lifestyles can prepare the body for the work day. Some employers partner with local gyms to offer employee discounts. Others, including Texas Mutual Insurance Company, offer discounts on medical benefits for employees who participate in annual health screenings.

Launch a return-to-work program. When older workers get hurt, a return-to-work program can help them get well and back on the job. Return-to-work programs focus on identifying alternative, productive work that employees can do while they recover from an injury.

Set up a mentoring system. Ask younger workers to shadow older workers so they can learn the most effective and efficient way to do the job. A good mentoring system can improve your productivity and make older workers feel useful and appreciated.

Use our free resources. Visit the Safety and Return-to-Work section for more information about workplace safety and return-to-work programs. Texas Mutual Insurance Company also hosts free workers' comp workshops across the state. Employers who attend get practical tips on improving their safety program, launching a return-to-work program and controlling their claim costs.

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