Understand the unique risks that come with employing older workers
By Denny Jacob | June 05, 2018 at 07:00 AM
The U.S. workforce is changing radically before our eyes. Many sectors are being exposed in the wake of #MeToo while others are looking to fend off pressure from China, which is poised to be a leader in artificial intelligence.
While such shifts are notable, the most radical aspect of the U.S. workforce may be the participation rate by individuals age 65 and older. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those 65 and older accounted for 19.3% of the workforce in 2016; by 2026, they are projected to account for 21.8% of the workforce.
Workers are working well beyond the traditional retirement age of 65 for a number of reasons. While some are looking to pad their savings a bit more or erase some debt, others simply enjoy their line of work and aren’t ready to retire just yet. As workers stay on the job longer, there are a number of variables for an employer to consider in the process. Older workers are invaluable when it comes to training the next line of workers, but they are also are more prone to injuries and risks that come with age.
Employers must prepare for a number of scenarios that can strike with older workers. Marsh’s latest Workers’ Compensation Webcast Series: Managing Aging Workforce Risks addresses just that. With this in mind, here are some key insights from the webinar.
The aging workforce
With an aging workforce, there are a number of workplace injury risk factors to consider, especially when it comes to tools and equipment. Assembly jobs, for example, often require repetitive movements that can lead to physical setbacks like carpal tunnel syndrome.
Additionally, effects of aging can range from diminishing strength and visual acuity deficits to less accurate gross motor functions. Employees 55 and older also typically develop comorbid conditions like diabetes or obesity. Businesses looking to mitigate such scenarios will need to balance the need to avoid “fixing” preexisting comorbidities through workers’ compensation systems while still properly addressing workplace injuries.
Managing claims involving older workers
With any workforce, an employer will have various insurance policies in place to mitigate worst-case scenarios. But things can get especially tricky when dealing with older workers.
Gary Anderberg, senior vice president, claims analytics for Gallagher Bassett, says that anecdotal evidence shows that older workers need more time to develop personal bonds with claims adjusters.
“Older injured employees really need to feel like that they have an advocate,” says Anderberg. “Building those personal bonds can have an impact on the course of treatment, and the success of treatment, and litigation trends because the older a workers’ comp claim it is, the more likely he or she is to sue.”
There are a number of ways businesses can accommodate their older workers without skipping a beat. Employers can consider implementing equipment to replace manual force, retrain employees more frequently or simply add lighting and optical sensing systems. Additionally, targeted wellness programs can help treat chronic injuries and prevent recurring injury.
As older workers are intent on working beyond retirement, employers need to prepare their business operations to reflect their entire workforce. Treading such a fine line will require a lot of planning and insurance, but the final product will benefit both the employer and employees.