According to an analysis of federal statistics by the Associated Press, older workers are dying at a much higher rate than the work force in total. That is in spite a general trend for fewer fatal accidents on the job.
Using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census for Fatal Occupational injuries and one-year estimates from the American Community Survey, the AP found that while total fatalities for all workers are down 22%, from 5,480 in 2005 to 4,836 in 2015, the number of fatalities that involved workers 55 years and older actually experienced a marginal increase, from 1,562 to 1,681.
During that same period, they also determined that the older workers experienced fatal on the job accidents between 50% and 65% more than the general worker pool, depending on the year.
One possible reason is that older workers are more prone to injury than younger workers thanks to the aging process, which “could potentially make a workplace injury into a much more serious injury or a potentially fatal injury,” as Denver Public Health Department epidemiologist Ken Scott put it in the AP’s report.
While it is not difficult to understand why older workers might be more prone to accidents, a AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll in 2013 found that a significant minority of older Americans worked largely physical jobs (44%) and that 36% reported that they had more difficulty completing physical tasks now than they did in their youth.
But with truck and auto accidents making up such a significant portion of fatal workplace accidents for both older workers and the general pool, it raises questions about what the cause of this increased death rate means. After all, the U.S. Department of Transportation found that were caused by driving too quickly for road conditions, which can occur regardless of age.
“I’m just not positive that 55-70 year olds need so much more protection than workers 52-20,” Columbia University’s Aging Center co-director, Ruth Finkelstein, said to the AP, “but are all those people needing protection now? Yes, absolutely. We are not paying enough attention to occupational safety in this country.”
Still, this trend is worrying many analysts and employers, especially as baby boomers continue to work well past the retirement age. In fact, by 2024, the U.S. government estimates older workers will make up a quarter of the work force.
Many businesses have started adopting changes that will encourage better working environments, not just for the older workers’ sake, but for younger workers as well.
“We saw an increase in back injuries and older workers were more likely to suffer from those injuries,” Jim Godwin, Bon Secours Virginia Health System vice president of human resources, said to the AP. “Not only that, but we thought if we can keep workers from sustaining (back) injuries when they are younger, they can continue working longer.”