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Growh & Jobs | Older people dying on job at higher rate than all workers

Published:Tuesday | August 22, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Older people are dying on the job at a higher rate than workers overall, even as the rate of workplace fatalities decreases, according to a recent Associated Press analysis of federal statistics.

It's a trend that's particularly alarming as baby boomers reject the traditional retirement age of 65 and keep working. The US government estimates that by 2024, older workers will account for 25 per cent of the labour market.

Getting old - and the physical changes associated with it - "could potentially make a workplace injury into a much more serious injury or a potentially fatal injury," said Ken Scott, an epidemiologist with the Denver Public Health Department.

Gerontologists say those changes include gradually worsening vision and hearing impairment, reduced response time, balance issues and chronic medical or muscle or bone problems, such as arthritis.

In 2015, about 35 per cent of the fatal workplace accidents involved a worker 55 and older - or 1,681 of the 4,836 fatalities reported nationally.

William White, 56, was one of them. White fell 25 feet while working at Testa Produce Inc on Chicago's South Side. He later died of his injuries.

"I thought it wouldn't happen to him," his son, William White Jr, said in an interview. "Accidents happen. He just made the wrong move."

The AP analysis showed that overall workplace fatality rate for all workers - and for those 55 and older - decreased by 22 per cent between 2006 and 2015. But the rate of fatal accidents among older workers during that time period was 50 per cent to 65 per cent higher than for all workers, depending on the year.

The number of deaths among all workers dropped from 5,480 in 2005 to 4,836 in 2015. By contrast, on-the-job fatalities among older workers increased slightly, from 1,562 to 1,681, the analysis shows.

During that time period, the number of older people in the workplace increased by 37 per cent. That compares with a six per cent rise in the population of workers overall.