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Older health care workers may suffer more work injuries

The Colorado health care industry is fortunate to have a large worker population of older professionals. The added experience can be unparalleled by younger workers.

However, older workers may be more prone to work-related injuries. There are policies that health care companies, such as hospitals, can take to reduce the incidence of older worker injuries and lost productivity, as well as the higher expense for such workers' compensation covered injuries. These programs are entirely unrelated to fulfilling OSHA obligations.

As reported by Zurich in its recent Healthcare Risk Insights Benchmark Study of Hospital Workers' Compensation Claims, older workers are an invaluable asset to health care companies. This is particularly so in light of the general reality that Americans in general are living longer and working longer.

Along with experience, age may bring some functional losses

In the hospital setting, older workers bring added value not typically available from younger workers, in the vein of experience, wisdom and knowledge. However, with that aging comes changes that can affect the work environment's safety for these workers. Such changes include:

  • Decreased muscle mass
  • Decreased flexibility
  • More frequent circulation problems

Reduced muscle mass and flexibility lead to a higher incidence of falls and other injuries. Circulatory issues can cause a sensitivity to heat or cold that an older worker did not suffer from previously. There are also, at times, psychosocial changes.

Viewed by age group and in terms of the cost per workers' compensation claim, the costs rise with age. This is generally so in all industries, not only the health care industry. In fact, the cost differential is tremendous. At age 22, an injured worker will, on average, have a claim cost of $2,000. At age 65 or older, the average cost of claim is $10,000.

Methods and policies to strive for a safer, older workforce

Hospitals and other health organizations should consider implementing and maintaining wellness programs for their employees to promote their health, in addition to creating a healthier work environment. Other related areas geared towards the older workers that companies can embrace include the following:

  • Striving toward ergonomically designed work environment that decreases injuries, stress and errors
  • Availing themselves of the knowledge of retiring workers, to assist in the training and guidance to newer workers
  • Providing health screenings and risk evaluations
  • Scheduling educational seminars on risks such as injury-causing falls
  • Encouraging use of stretching programs that encourage stretching and flexing before doing certain occupational duties or tasks that may be prone to causing injury

Health care companies can also engage programs to safely return injured workers to work, reduce lost work time and retain productivity for the worker.

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