‘We are not pay­ing enough at­ten­tion’

Older peo­ple dy­ing on job at higher rate than all work­ers: study


Older peo­ple are dy­ing on the job at a higher rate than work­ers over­all, even as the rate of work­place fa­tal­i­ties de­creases, ac­cord­ing to an As­so­ci­ated Press anal­y­sis of fed­eral sta­tis­tics.

It’s a trend that’s par­tic­u­larly alarm­ing as baby boomers re­ject the tra­di­tional re­tire­ment age of 65 and keep work­ing. The U.S. gov­ern­ment es­ti­mates that by 2024, older work­ers will ac­count for 25 per cent of the labour mar­ket.

Get­ting old — and the phys­i­cal changes as­so­ci­ated with it — “could po­ten­tially make a work­place in­jury into a much more se­ri­ous in­jury or a po­ten­tially fa­tal in­jury,” said Ken Scott, an epi­demi­ol­o­gist with the Den­ver Pub­lic Health Depart­ment.

Geron­tol­o­gists say those changes in­clude grad­u­ally wors­en­ing vi­sion and hear­ing im­pair­ment, re­duced re­sponse time, bal­ance is­sues and chronic med­i­cal or mus­cle or bone prob­lems such as arthri­tis.

In 2015, about 35 per cent of the fa­tal work­place ac­ci­dents in­volved a worker 55 and older — or 1,681 of the 4,836 fa­tal­i­ties re­ported na­tion­ally.

William White, 56, was one of them. White fell 25 feet while work­ing at Testa Pro­duce Inc. on Chicago’s South Side. He later died of his in­juries.

“I thought it wouldn’t hap­pen to him,” his son, William White Jr., said in an in­ter­view. “Ac­ci­dents hap­pen. He just made the wrong move.”

The AP anal­y­sis showed that the work­place fatality rate for all work­ers — and for those 55 and older — de­creased by 22 per cent be­tween 2006 and 2015. But the rate of fa­tal ac­ci­dents among older work­ers dur­ing that time pe­riod was 50 per cent to 65 per cent higher than for all work­ers, de­pend­ing on the year.

The num­ber of deaths among all work­ers dropped from 5,480 in 2005 to 4,836 in 2015. By con­trast, on-the-job fa­tal­i­ties among older work­ers in­creased slightly, from 1,562 to 1,681, the anal­y­sis shows.

Dur­ing that time pe­riod, the num­ber of older peo­ple in the work­place in­creased by 37 per cent. That com­pares with a 6 per cent rise in the pop­u­la­tion of work­ers over­all.

Ruth Finkel­stein, co-direc­tor of Co­lum­bia Univer­sity’s Ag­ing Cen­ter, cau­tions against stereo­typ­ing. She said older peo­ple have a range of phys­i­cal and men­tal abil­i­ties and that it’s dan­ger­ous to lump all peo­ple in an age group to­gether be­cause it could lead to dis­crim­i­na­tion.

She said she’s not sure that older work­ers need much more pro­tec­tion than younger work­ers, but agreed there is a need for all work­ers to have more pro­tec­tion. “We are not pay­ing enough at­ten­tion to oc­cu­pa­tional safety in this coun­try,” she said.

The AP anal­y­sis is based on data from the Bu­reau of Labor Sta­tis­tics’ Cen­sus for Fa­tal Oc­cu­pa­tional In­juries and from one-year es­ti­mates from the Amer­i­can Com­mu­nity Sur­vey, which looks at the work­ing pop­u­la­tion. It ex­cludes cases where the cause of death was from a “nat­u­ral cause,” in­clud­ing a heart at­tack or stroke.

AP also ex­am­ined the num­ber and types of ac­ci­dents in which older work­ers died be­tween 2011, when the bu­reau changed the way it cat­e­go­rized ac­ci­dents, to 2015:


per cent.


equip­ment in­creased 17 per cent.


in­creased 15 per cent.

r 'JSFT BOE FYQMPTJPOT EFcreased by 8 per cent.

“We ex­pect that there will be more older work­ers in­creas­ing each year and they will rep­re­sent a greater share (of the fa­tal­i­ties) over the last cou­ple of decades,” said Scott, the Den­ver epi­demi­ol­o­gist. “This is­sue of el­e­vated risk is some­thing we should be pay­ing close at­ten­tion to.”

An As­so­ci­ated Press-NORC Cen­ter for Pub­lic Af­fairs Re­search poll found in 2013 that 44 per cent of older Amer­i­cans said their job re­quired phys­i­cal ef­fort most or al­most all of the time, and 36 per cent said it was more dif­fi­cult to com­plete the phys­i­cal re­quire­ments of their jobs than it was when they were younger.

William White Jr. said his father had been work­ing in the same Chicago-based ware­house for over a decade and was a man­ager when he fell to his death on Sept. 24, 2015.

“My dad was the best at what he did. He’s the one who taught me ev­ery­thing I know,” the 26-year-old Chicago res­i­dent said. “He went up to get an item for the de­liv­ery driver and the next thing you know he made a wrong move and fell. The job is fast-pace and ev­ery­body is rush­ing.”

Thomas Stiede, prin­ci­pal of­fi­cer for Team­sters Lo­cal 703, said White knew the safety pro­ce­dures and he can’t un­der­stand why White didn’t wear a safety har­ness. “He was a very con­sci­en­tious em­ployee,” he said, his voice crack­ing with emo­tion.

Testa Inc. was fined $12,600 by the U.S. Oc­cu­pa­tional Safety and Health Ad­min­is­tra­tion for fail­ing to pro­vide safety train­ing. The com­pany de­clined to com­ment for this story.

The same year White died, the fa­tal ac­ci­dent rate in Illi­nois for older work­ers was 4.5 per 100,000 work­ers, 60 per cent higher than the com­pa­ra­ble rate for all work­ers.

In most states, the fa­tal ac­ci­dent rates for older work­ers were con­sis­tently higher than com­pa­ra­ble rates for all work­ers.

Ne­vada, New Jer­sey and Wash­ing­ton had the great­est per cent in­crease in fa­tal ac­ci­dent rates for older work­ers be­tween 2006 and 2015.

The three states with the big­gest per cent de­crease were Hawaii, Ore­gon and Ver­mont.

Eight states saw their over­all work­place fatality rate drop, even as the rate for older work­ers in­creased: Mas­sachusetts, Michi­gan, Mon­tana, Ne­vada, New York, Texas, Utah and Wash­ing­ton.

In two states — North Dakota and Wis­con­sin — the trend was re­versed; older worker ac­ci­dent rates de­creased while the ac­ci­dent rate over­all in­creased.

In metropoli­tan ar­eas, Las Ve­gas ran counter to the na­tional trend.

In 2006, the fa­tal ac­ci­dent rate among older work­ers in the Las Ve­gas metropoli­tan area was lower than the rate among all work­ers. But by 2015, the rate of deaths among older work­ers more than dou­bled even as the rate among all work­ers de­clined.

Trans­porta­tion ac­ci­dents ac­count for a large por­tion of fa­tal work­place in­ci­dents among both older work­ers and work­ers in gen­eral.

In one such in­ci­dent, Ruan Qiang Hua, 58, died last Nov. 21 from in­juries suf­fered in a fork­lift ac­ci­dent at Good View Roof­ing and Build­ing Sup­ply ware­house, ac­cord­ing to the Cal­i­for­nia Oc­cu­pa­tional Safety and Health Ad­min­is­tra­tion. Af­ter a bag of mor­tar fell from the pal­let, Qiang backed up and rolled off a ramp. The fork­lift tipped over and Qian was crushed when he jumped off.

The agency fined the San Fran­cisco-based com­pany $62,320, say­ing it had failed to en­sure that fork­lift op­er­a­tors were com­pe­tent and wore seat belts.

The com­pany is ap­peal­ing the penal­ties, ac­cord­ing to OSHA.

Records show that Hua was not prop­erly trained or cer­ti­fied as a fork­lift op­er­a­tor. Video of the in­ci­dent showed he was not wear­ing his seat­belt. Other video from the work­site showed that other fork­lift op­er­a­tors also had not used their seat belts and that the em­ployer failed to in­stall a curb along the sides of the ramp to pre­vent the lifts from run­ning off the ramp. The com­pany de­clined to com­ment.

In Cal­i­for­nia, the 2015 rate of fa­tal ac­ci­dents was 3.4 per 100,000 work­ers for older work­ers, 60 per cent higher than the rate for all work­ers.

The AP anal­y­sis showed that older work­ers were in­volved in about 1 in 4 fa­tal work­place ac­ci­dents re­lated to fires and ex­plo­sions from 2011 to 2015.

In April 2014, Earle Robin­son, 60, and other em­ploy­ees were do­ing main­te­nance work at Bryan Texas Util­i­ties Power Plant, about 100 miles north of Hous­ton, when there was a loud ex­plo­sion. Work­ers called 911 and pleaded for help.

“He’s in bad shape. He’s got a lot of fa­cial burns,” ac­cord­ing to a tran­script of the 911 calls. “He’s got some pretty bad burns.”

Robin­son was taken to a hos­pi­tal in Hous­ton and died days later. The com­pany de­clined to com­ment for this story.

The year Robin­son died, the fatality rate among older work­ers in Texas was 6.1 per 100,000 work­ers — 43 per cent higher than the ac­ci­dent rate for all work­ers.

The Na­tional Cen­ter for Pro­duc­tive Ag­ing and Work is push­ing for changes in the work­place to make it safer for older work­ers. The year-old cen­tre is part of the Na­tional In­sti­tute for Oc­cu­pa­tional Safety and Health.

“We ad­vo­cate to make work­places as age-friendly as pos­si­ble,” said co-direc­tor James Grosch. For ex­am­ple, in­creased light­ing helps older work­ers whose eye­sight has weak­ened with age.

He said the cen­tre is em­pha­siz­ing pro­duc­tive ag­ing, look­ing at “how peo­ple can be more pro­duc­tive, how their wis­dom can be lever­aged in a work­place.”


Bryan Texas fire­fight­ers stand out­side the Bryan Texas Util­i­ties Power Plant fol­low­ing a fa­tal ex­plo­sion and fire in April 2014.


Fire­fight­ers trans­port an in­jured worker in a stretcher to the am­bu­lance fol­low­ing an ex­plo­sion and fire April 29, 2014 at the Bryan Texas Util­i­ties Power Plant.


A pair of shoes be­long­ing to one of the three work­ers in­jured af­ter an ex­plo­sion at the Bryan Texas Util­i­ties Power Plant in 2014. The fire killed a 60-year-old worker.

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