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The Aging Work Force and Reducing Manufacturers Workers’ Compensation Claims

The American workforce is getting older with a demographic shift that will see a number of employees in 2008 go from 28 million workers over age 55 to almost 40 million by the end of 2016. This shift is in part due to the graying of Baby Boomers; increasingly more individuals opting not to retire in the face of the most recent economic downturn; and a greater number of employers embracing older employees who bring loyalty, skill and experience to the job.

What does the aging workforce mean in terms of Workers’ Compensation – the type and severity of injuries older workers face, keeping workers healthy on the job, preventing workplace injuries and expediting return-to-work (RTW) times after injuries? Following are some recent findings we’d like to share with you:

  • The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) in its recent study, “Workers Compensation and the Aging Workforce,” found that older workers often face different types of injuries compared with younger workers. They tend to have more rotator cuff and knee injuries while younger workers face more back and ankle sprains. This injury mix is a key driver of the higher severity that insurers see on claims made by older workers.
  • The NCCI study also found that along with different injury types, older workers tend to require more treatments per claim, even after adjusting for the mix of injury types among all workers. This may be due to the role that co-morbidity likely plays in the longer treatment times seen by some older workers. Co-morbidity is the presence of one or more additional disorders (or diseases) co-occurring with a primary disease or disorder; or the effect of such additional disorders or diseases. There are certain co-morbid conditions, such as diabetes and obesity, which have a greater impact on disability duration than the aging process itself. For instance, a laceration that may not result in a disability for one worker could result in an infection and slower return to function for an employee with diabetes. Also, delays in healing that are attributable to diabetes are often seen in a shoulder, back, and other soft-tissue injuries. In addition, the severity of injuries is related to co-morbid conditions. One of the best examples of this relationship in older workers is degenerative joint disease, a condition that can affect older persons’ hips, knees and spine, and may complicate healing after an injury to these areas.

Keeping an Aging Workforce Healthy, Preventing Injuries

Following are several recommendations to implement in your manufacturing shop to help minimize accidents and injuries among your aging workforce, which can help to drive down Workers’ Compensation insurance costs.

  • Match each worker’s capabilities to job demands. Good employees who already have problems due to their health can benefit from job accommodations. If this isn’t possible, consider moving employees to another job or changing their position so they can safely perform the work. This is best done prior to the occurrence of a disability.
  • Create a culture that encourages discussion about early signs of injury. If workers feel comfortable discussing aches and pains immediately, supervisors in the shop can make workplace adjustments and prevent expensive injuries from developing.
  • Modify jobs to respond to some of the changes that occur with age, based on individual worker input. This might include decreasing the amount of handling of very heavy loads, improving lighting conditions, or reducing the amount of time that workers spend operating equipment.
  • Implement a wellness program that also addresses the concerns of older workers. Certain health risk factors such as smoking and obesity have a strong correlation with workplace injury rates and longer return-to-work times.
  • Promote communication and engagement between supervisors, co-workers, and injured workers. Communication with workers on disability leave has been shown to significantly improve return-to-work outcomes. (We covered this in our previous article.)
  • Consider modifying your return-to-work program to accommodate the prolonged rehabilitation that may be required with some injuries sustained by older workers.

When it comes to your workforce, be sure to take a good look at the makeup of your workers to implement safety and return-to-work programs that reflect the type of potential injuries they face and to empower employees of all ages to remain productive longer. This is not only great for retaining quality, experienced talent but will also help you keep your Workers’ Compensation premiums in line. Precision Manufacturing Insurance Services (PMIS) specializes in protecting the manufacturing industry in California with comprehensive, competitive solutions that include Workers’ Compensation insurance coupled with sound safety, loss control, and risk management programs. Give us a call at 855.910.5788 to find out about our custom manufacturing insurance solutions.

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