Older Construction Workers Have More Costly Workers’ Comp Claims

April 6, 2012
Older construction workers file a small percentage of workers’ compensation claims, yet their claims tend to be more costly. A recent analysis of over 100,000 workers’ compensation construction industry claims for the state of Colorado found that medical costs rise 1 percent with each year of age, while indemnity costs rise 3.5 percent each year.

Lead researcher John Rosecrance, Ph.D,. PT, CPE, of Colorado State University and his team discovered that 29 percent of all claims filed by workers over the age of 65 were the result of a fall, slip or trip, and a fall, slip or trip resulted in a 2.5 percent increase in the indemnity cost of a claim for each year increase in age. Falls to the same level or on ice or snow, specifically, were more common among older workers. Yet, the average cost of a fall to a different level was more costly, regardless of age.

“It seems that the main driver of increased costs among aging construction workers are costs associated with lost workdays, disabilities, physical limitations, etc. (i.e. indemnity costs),” said Natalie Schwatka, M.S., AEP, a graduate student in ergonomics and human factors at Colorado State University, and who, along with Lesley Butler, Ph.D., co-authored the study with Rosecrance. “These results were not especially surprising given that previous research has found that aging workers sustain more severe injuries.”

Strains, specifically from lifting, were the most common cause of injury among workers ages 35-64. A strain resulted in a 3.8 percent increase in the cost of a claim for each year increase in age. Though repetitive motion causes of injuries were not frequent among all age groups, they resulted in a 6.8 percent increase in the indemnity cost of a claim for each year increase in age.

“This analysis suggests that aging construction workers and younger construction workers do in fact experience significant differences in injuries and costs,” the researchers noted.

The study was conducted on behalf of CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training through a cooperative agreement with NIOSH and the NIOSH Mountain & Plains Education and Research Center and currently is undergoing the journal review process. The researchers recently published a review article on the topic in Epidemiologic Reviews.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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