Workman’s compensation costs have dramatically increased over the last forty years. This is largely attributed to two trends in the workforce, namely the increase in average age of the workforce and the increase of obese workers in that force. Forty years ago, the average age of a member of the US’s workforce was twenty-eight. Today, the average age of the workforce is forty-six and 31% of those people are obese. Over the last forty years, obesity rates have skyrocketed, leading to a workforce that has far more obese people and aging people than in previous decades.
In the year 2000, there were only 18.2 million people older than the age 55 in the workforce. That number has jumped to 25 million in the last fifteen years and is expected to be 32 million by 2025. Economic and social differences have contributed to the aging workforce. With the recent economic downturn, more people have had to return to work or have had to hold on to their jobs, when, in previous economic climates, they might have been able to comfortably retire or remain retired. The number of workers over the age of forty-five has more than doubled since the 1950s.
How does this affect workman’s compensation costs? As we age, we lose strength, dexterity, visual and auditory comprehension, muscle mass, bone density, and cognitive speed. We are at much higher risks of some of the most dangerous illnesses and ailments, including, but not limited to obesity, arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. These ailments, in conjunction with the lowered motor capacity that most people experience as they age, makes accidents far more likely on the manufacturing floor, which endangers not just the aging individual, but also those around him. The more accidents and mistakes there are, the higher likelihood there is for someone to be hurt and for the manufacturing plant to have to pay workman’s comp.
The same principle applies when it comes to obesity. An individual with a body mass index above 30, has to pay, on average, $1,429 more in medical care costs than an individual of normal weight. On average, America pays more than $147 billion to cover the medical costs of obesity. Obese workers are also twice as likely to file a worker’s compensation claim than a normal worker. Because the rate of obesity has jumped up in recent years, there are more people filing those claims and those claims are more expensive.
The average obese worker loses thirteen more work days, costs eleven times more, and files nearly seven times as many medical claims as a normal worker. Both obesity and old age put a strain on the back and lower extremities, which are also the two of the most common body parts to be injured. Wrists and hands, which are likely to be arthritic in older workers, are another of the two most common body parts to be injured in today’s manufacturing plants. Simply put, old age and obesity are both hiking the costs of workman’s compensation because these types of workers are more likely to be injured and are more likely to cause injury.
The riskiest jobs for aging and obese workers are production lines, fulfilment, order picking, and warehouse jobs, along with any other position that requires significant reaching, bending, and lifting. These two conditions make it much more difficult and dangerous to do the reaching, bending, and lifting that these jobs require. As obesity rates and the average age of the workforce continue to increase, we are likely to see workman’s compensation costs to continue to rise in tandem.