NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Older Workers And On-The-Job Deaths

June 17, 1997

Federal bureaucrats are reportedly in a quandary about what to do to keep older workers from being injured or killed on the job. While people age 65 and older have half as many accidents as their younger -- and sometimes more reckless -- colleagues, they are nearly four times as likely as younger ones to die from job-related causes.

Government researchers first noticed the statistics a decade ago and conducted a series of studies between 1993 and 1997 as part of a broader effort to learn more about who gets killed in the work place.

  • The research showed that older workers are five times as likely to have a fatal transportation accident as younger workers.
  • They are 3.8 times as likely to be killed by objects and equipment, and 3.4 times as likely to die from an assault.
  • Some 500 or so workers over 65 die each year from job-related causes -- and the higher death rates cross industry lines, according to government figures.
  • During the past decade, the number of older workers has risen from 3 million to 3.8 million -- or 3 percent of the total workforce.

Federal regulators have failed to publicize this data until now, however, in part because they reportedly didn't know what to do about it.

Political and legal complications make this a sensitive issue. Older people and their lobbying groups have fought for the right to work without age discrimination, and many are loathe to support any special protection measures -- lest such protections become restrictions.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 bars employers from considering age in hiring and firing. An employer may consider whether a job is beyond any individual's capacity, but as a rule cannot automatically exclude older people from any job. Employers often recognize when a particular task represents a risk to older workers, but because of age-discrimination laws, they must be careful of what they say.

Some analysts point out that the federal government has boxed itself in through such one-size-fits-all laws and regulations. In its anti-discrimination zeal, it has papered over the fact people are different, and different workers have different abilities and needs.

Source: Michael Moss, "For Older Employees, On-the-Job Injuries are More Often Deadly," Wall Street Journal, June 17, 1997.


Browse more articles on Government Issues