Answer to problems of an aging workforce: Maximize productivity, minimize risk
Happier, healthier workers are more likely to add to your bottom line than be a drain on your workers' comp budget -- regardless of age.
"If you're going to stay in business, you're not going to have a choice: you're going to have to hire older workers," said Dr. Jesse Lipnick of Southeastern Integrated Medicine in Gainesville, Fla.
Speaking at the recent Florida Workers' Compensation Institute conference in Orlando, Lipnick said by proactively ensuring workers are physically able to perform a particular job and focusing on return-to-work efforts, employers can reap the benefits of older workers without incurring needless expenses.
Pros and cons of older workers.
Studies show older workers have increased knowledge bases, longer work experiences, higher levels of commitment and loyalty, lower rates of turnover and absenteeism, and fewer work-related accidents. At the same time, older workers who are injured take longer and generally require more expensive medical care to recover.
The normal degenerative process can complicate matters -- and add to expenses -- when trying to determine whether an injury is work-related, age-related, or a combination of the two, especially in states that allow apportioning of worker-related injuries (see box). Age also is a factor in whether an injured worker recovers and returns to work.
"If an older worker gets injured, his chances of going back are much less," Lipnick said. "A 20-year-old who falls down gets up and bounces back. A 60-year-old doesn't. Age is critical."
In addition to the aging process, Lipnick says outside factors can exacerbate degenerative health issues. He says by employing techniques such as health and wellness programs and flexible scheduling, employers can mitigate some of the risk factors.
Older workers and RTW. Reducing risk factors can also mean the difference between getting older workers back to productivity or staying off the job. Lipnick says in addition to age, there are a variety of risk factors for recovery and return to work.
Topping the list is smoking. "It takes away functional reserve -- the idea that if somebody has a certain amount of strength and they need, say 50 percent of their strength to do their job, their strength can fail by 50 percent and it won't affect their ability to do their work," Lipnick said. "But smokers, after years of smoking, have no functional reserve. They limit their activities in a way that they can get enough air."
Job satisfaction is another key factor in when or how soon an injured worker will recover. "People who love what they do, they go back to it," Lipnick said. "If they get injured, you can't keep them away from what they love doing."
Additional risk factors for recovery from injuries include:
- Income insurance.
- Psychiatric overlay.
- Body mass index.
- Duration of painful condition.
- Education level. "People who stay in school longer go back to work when they get injured," Lipnick said.
"My proposition is that all these risk factors are really essential to people's ability to do their jobs," Lipnick said. Speaking from a medical standpoint, Lipnick said he believes employers should somehow be able to prevent people from taking jobs they are unable to perform.
"What I'm proposing is these risk factors are essential to the performance of any job, certainly of physical jobs. So, as an employer, if I'm going to hire somebody I can't ask their age or if they smoke or their psychological background -- all that represents discrimination. And yet I think that if employers in the future have to hire older workers, which they will based on population, and age is a risk factor for injury, I think medically they better do it because if they don't they are going to hurt people."
Minimizing the risk. Questions about a worker's physical ability to handle a job can be answered during post-offer, preemployment physical exams that include functional capacity evaluations. Questions such as, 'Are employees really able to do the work,' and 'Is there a safer position for them to prevent injury,' should be addressed, Lipnick advises.
Additionally, periodic functional capacity evaluations can assess an employee's ability to continue in his position.
Lipnick also encourages employers to offer health insurance to their employees. "I think the workers' comp system would be unloaded a lot if workers had health insurance," Lipnick said.
For example, a person with chronic back pain left untreated may have a longer and more expensive recovery if he becomes injured. "That person gets by OK until he has an injury which disables him," Lipnick said. "But if he were receiving medical care the entire time, then the injury that was responsible for his disability might not have injured him so badly because he might have had it treated."
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
September 30, 2011
Copyright 2011© LRP Publications