Injuries and Older Construction Workers: Facts and Recommendations

As U.S. construction and other workers grow older, companies and contractors must look at ways to lessen physical injuries, which increase with age.

Between 1998 and 2010, the average age of construction workers increased from 36 to 41.5, according to the Center for Construction Research and Training.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, a correlation exists between physically demanding industries, such as construction, and workers’ compensation costs.

NIH evaluated Colorado WC claims in a study to determine the link between age and injury type on claim costs through a database of 107,064 claims within a 10-year period.

The study reports that the mean cost of claims increased with age. For each additional year, indemnity and medical costs rise. For strains and contusions, the association is higher among workers over 65 compared with 18 to 24-year-olds.

NIH concludes that specific injuries may be in part the reason for higher indemnity costs among older construction workers when compared to younger counterparts.

Lack of untrained, unskilled younger construction workers and the institutional knowledge of older construction workers add to the imbalance.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2009 showed that construction workers have higher rates of injuries than workers in other industries and the average total cost of their injuries is significantly greater.

Rise in life expectancy, pension decreases, rising healthcare costs and financial insecurity contribute to an aging workforce.

According to U.S. Census information, 19 percent of workers were 55 and older in 2010; the number increased to 22.6 percent five years later. By 2024, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 24.8 percent of all workers will be over 55.

A 2012 Center for Construction Research and Training study found that older construction workers “may be hesitant to shift to less physically demanding work, given the risk of reduced income or reduced access to health and pension benefits.”

Rotating the workforce to limit physically demanding work to few hours at a time can help company owners lessen workplace injuries. Providing stress and strain-reducing equipment and procedures not only reduces injuries, but it boosts morale in older workers who want to continue to contribute and make a good living.

Construction managers tend to assign less demanding work to older workers who may not have the strength of younger ones.

Age also affects days off work. In 2014, the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses tallied the following median lost work days for injured construction workers, on average:

  • 20 for 45 to 54-year-olds
  • 21 for 55 to 64
  • 27 for 65 and older

Other industries lost 12, 15 and 17 days in the same age groups. With younger workers lumped in, the median fell to 10 missed days in construction and nine in all other industries.

The study concluded that older workers experienced more trunk, back, shoulder and knee injuries than younger workers, who were more likely to experience head and hand injuries.

The Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries finds that risk of fatal falls across all industries increases with age. Deaths from falls for 20 to 24-year-olds were 8.2 percent of the total. The percentage increased dramatically by age:

  • 45-54, 16.8 percent
  • 55-64, 20.7 percent
  • 65 and older, 27.3 percent

However, small changes in the workplace can mitigate injuries to older workers. Wood flooring and cushioned mats for knee strain, orthopedic footwear for foot problems, magnifiers and larger computer screens and fonts for eye strain and changes in lifting procedures and equipment to reduce back issues.

According to the NIH, as older workers remain on the job longer, “understanding the health and safety needs of an aging workforce will be critical,” especially for physically demanding jobs, such as construction, where older workers may be at higher risk of injury and illness. The injuries and illnesses sustained by workers in the industry can be a burden to companies, workers and families.

In the US, the estimated average total cost of construction-related injury was $27,000, with a greater proportion of the total costs related to indirect costs, such as lost wages, rather than direct costs, like medical costs, compared to $15,000 across all industries, making it one of the most expensive industries to insure.

According to the National Compensation Survey in 2011 from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the construction industry spent on average, $1.32 per hour worked on WC compared to $0.44 across all other industries.

With small accommodations – safety training, injury-reducing equipment and training, and pre-employment screenings ‑  the construction industry can keep older, knowledgeable workers while helping employers walk the fine line between safety, productivity, decreased injuries and age discrimination.


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Tamera Shaw is a freelance writer for Insured Solutions based in Louisville, Kentucky. She writes fiction and enjoys amateur photography. She happily shares her life with husband Ron, daughter Cate and sage cat, Sophie, who grudgingly shares her home with the newest member of our family – Nieko, our new kitten.


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