The Effects on Workers’ Compensation of an Aging Workforce Tapering Off

Even though the median age of America’s workforce is increasing, its effects on the workers’ compensation system are ebbing, according to Harry Shuford, practice leader and chief economist for the National Council on Compensation Insurance, Inc. This research organization is the oldest and largest provider of workers’ compensation and employee injury data in the nation.

Shuford addressed his remarks to attendees of the annual Workers’ Compensation Educational Conference in a workshop titled “Are Baby Boomers a Bust for Workers’ Compensation?” The session also included Ned Wilson, director of planning and treasury at FCCI Insurance Group. It was one of seven sessions on national trends put on by The National Underwriter Company as part of its partnership with the Florida Workers’ Compensation Institute. The Institute runs the WCEC program, a partnership of the Florida Workers’ Compensation Institute and The National Underwriter Company.

Shuford noted that many workers have been negatively impacted by changes in their retirement systems, which are providing them with less money even though their longer life expectancy has dramatically increased the amount needed for retirement. While older employees in their fifties and sixties are continuing to work, younger workers have been dropping out.

Older workers are injured less frequently than their younger counterparts, but when involved in an accident, they have more severe claims with higher costs and longer recuperation times, Shuford said.One of the reasons for the higher claims costs are replacement wages. Older workers generally receive more compensation because their salaries are higher. In the future, however, differences in average weekly wages may shrink, Shuford added.

Differences in the types of injuries suffered by older and younger workers are also lessening, Shuford stated. However, there is a difference in the treatment cost between the two groups. Workers who are 45 to 65 years of age usually require 40 percent more treatment for an injury than younger workers, and the drugs older workers are prescribed are more expensive.

Wilson mentioned one statistic he couldn’t explain; that medical costs for the 25-and-under age group have risen 10 percent annually while costs in the 35 to 54 year old category have only gone up 7 percent each year.

Shuford noted that even as older workers remain in the work force, the percentage of people over age 65 still working is extremely small and that over age 65, the average weekly wage drops. For workers over 55, nearly 17 percent of their lost work time results from falls. He attributed this rise in fall-related accidents to older worker’s poor eyesight and an inability to move as well as they used to.To counteract these effects of aging, Shuford suggested that company loss control precautions should include better lighting, marking steps clearly and providing handrails.

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