Older peo­ple dy­ing on job at higher rate

35% of fa­tal work­place ac­ci­dents in­volved a worker over 55 years old

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY MARIA INES ZA­MU­DIO AND MICHELLE MINKOFF

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 per­cent of the la­bor 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 per­cent 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. Mr. 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 per­cent be­tween 2006 and 2015.

But the rate of fa­tal ac­ci­dents among older work­ers dur­ing that time pe­riod was 50 per­cent to 65 per­cent 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 per­cent. That com­pares with a 6 per­cent 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 of 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:

● Fall-re­lated fa­tal­i­ties rose 20 per­cent.

● Con­tact with ob­jects and equip­ment in­creased 17 per­cent.

● Trans­porta­tion ac­ci­dents in­creased 15 per­cent.

● Fires and ex­plo­sions de­creased by 8 per­cent.

“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 Mr. 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 per­cent of older Amer­i­cans said their job re­quired phys­i­cal ef­fort most or al­most all of the time, and 36 per­cent said it was more dif­fi­cult to com­plete the phys­i­cal re­quire­ments of their jobs than it was when they were younger.

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 cen­ter is part of the Na­tional In­sti­tute for Oc­cu­pa­tional Safety and Health.

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

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. This is­sue of el­e­vated risk is some­thing we should be pay­ing close at­ten­tion to.” — Ken Scott, Epi­demi­ol­o­gist with Den­ver Pub­lic Health De­part­ment

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Fire­fight­ers trans­port an in­jured worker to the am­bu­lance. An ex­plo­sion at the Bryan Texas Util­i­ties Power Plant left Earle Robin­son, 60, dead and two oth­ers in­jured. 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 anal­y­sis.

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