There always changes going on in workforce demographics. When labor laws became stricter, it became illegal to employ children; when the men were shipped off to Europe during World War II, women entered the workforce. Currently there are two major demographic shifts in the national workforce that are of concern for workers’ compensation: the aging worker and the overweight worker. Nearly all workers in Georgia are covered by workers’ compensation and can file a claim to receive compensation if they are injured. While the demographic shift doesn’t change that, it does mean employers need to adapt to keep workplace safety a priority.
Concerns of an Aging Workforce for Workers’ CompensationMany people are waiting to retire till later these days. Modern medicine and higher living standards mean people live longer and may need to work longer to ensure they have enough funds to carry them through retirement. The economic downturn and recession also lead many people to come out of retirement. Regardless of the reason, retirement at age 65 is no longer the norm and there are far more older workers across the country, and in Georgia, than there ever were before. One of the greatest challenges for employers, is making work environments more friendly to older workers. To combat hazards for older workers, the Department of Labor advises employers to take key actions, including implementing wellness programs and developing job design and ergonomics that make jobs less demanding for talented, aging workers. There is also great concern about how much workers’ compensation costs will change. Although older workers tend to have less injuries, they also are more likely to require more treatment and longer periods of time for recovery. Some concerns include:
- Comorbid conditions – Older workers are more likely to have comorbid conditions that either increase their risk of injury or make recovery more difficult. This includes many normal age-related conditions, such as diabetes or obesity. An older worker with osteoporosis, for example, would be far more likely to sustain a bone fracture from a fall than a healthy, younger person.
- Longer Recovery Periods – Although older workers face many of the same risks as younger workers at jobs, they may require more time to heal from similar injuries. While workers ages 25 to 34 and 35 to 44 needed, on average, six and nine days to recover, respectively, those 55 to 64 and 65 or older needed 11 to 12 days to return to work. The more time a worker needs to recover from an injury, the higher the workers’ compensation costs will be for employers.
- Higher Fatality Rates – According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the frequency at which older workers are injured is actually less than other workers, however, the injuries are more likely to be severe or fatal. In fact, at age 60 workers are three times more likely to have a fatal work injury than other age demographics. Falls and transportation accidents are particularly dangerous for older workers and the primary culprits for fatalities.
Overweight Workers and Workers’ CompensationAnother key demographic shift in the workforce is the overweight and obese worker. Obesity is a major problem across the U.S. and Georgia currently has the 19th highest rate of obesity in the country with a 30.5 percent adult obesity rate. According to some estimates, by the year 2030 the obesity rate will be 51 percent. Obesity complicates workers’ compensation claims for a number of reasons, primarily because of health problems associated with being overweight. This includes a myriad of disease and health risks including, but not limited to:
- Heart disease and stroke;
- High blood pressure;
- Osteoarthritis; and
- Breathing problems.