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1/6/2010 8:00:00 AM Write a Letter to the Editor Write a letter to the Editor

Opinion: Workers’ Comp and Our Aging Workforce

By Julie Croushore
Claims Supervisor — Workers’ Compensation
National Interstate Insurance Company

This Opinion piece appears in the Jan. 4 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

The slow economic recovery is causing many Americans either to delay retirement or to return to the workforce after retiring to supplement income. A 2005 American Trucking Associations study found one in five truck drivers was older than 55 — and by 2014, it’s expected to be one in four.

Senior employees are a great asset, bringing vast experience and knowledge to the workforce, as well as maturity and professionalism. However, older employees also present an added risk of injury and workers’ compensation claims as many suffer from arthritis and other chronic pre-existing medical conditions.

During a recent National Council on Compensation Insurance conference, it was revealed that the fatality rate of injured workers aged 65 or older is triple that of workers aged 35-44. There also is a 50% increase in days missed from work by older injured workers.

Employers cannot ignore these alarming statistics or the fact that these risk factors can lead to increased workers’ compensation claims and, ultimately, higher insurance premiums. The nation’s aging workforce demands a proactive approach to risk management.

As a workers’ compensation claims management professional, I frequently am asked by employers, “Why do I have to pay for this?” Take, for example, this common claims scenario:

John Smith, age 65, retires from longhaul driving to be closer to home and family. He takes a position as a local delivery driver. Smith’s new employer is impressed, because he is a prompt, consistent, conscientious driver willing to take any run. But after a few months on the job, Smith begins to complain of knee pain from getting in and out of his truck constantly for deliveries. His doctor recommends a total knee replacement, and Smith files a workers’ compensation claim with his new employer.

Why did Smith go straight to workers’ comp instead of employment-based health insurance or even Medicare, given his age? No. 1, because he’s been around long enough to know workers’ comp means receiving wages while off work dealing with the injury. No. 2, because the doctor told him climbing in and out of the three-step truck made Smith’s knees worse, causing him to need surgery that would have been otherwise avoided. And No. 3, an employee with an on-the-job injury that aggravates a pre-existing condition is considered to have a work-related injury the employer must pay to treat.

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