Above: Dr Peter Smith
By Yasmin Noone
A new study will attempt to provide proof for or dispute the claim that older employees are at a greater risk of injuring themselves at work, purely because of their age.
The Monash University study, due to commence soon, will aim to measure the increased risk of injury or illness among older, younger and immigrant workers and then determine why certain groups yield the results they do.
Senior research fellow from the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine at Monash University, Dr Peter Smith, said currently, groups of workers like older employees are often considered vulnerable to injury.
But, he added, a worker should not be attributed with specific characteristics which place them at a higher risk of experiencing a work-related injury just because they are ‘older’, ‘younger’ or ‘new’ to the workforce.
“It’s surprising that there is very research to understand the age distribution of older workers, given the changing demographics of the labour market and the need to accommodate and understand how systems will effectively compensate those who are injured,” Dr Smith said.
“This study will help us understand how the social and structural context at work can lead to an increased risk of injury and will help to develop preventative activities in the future.”
Dr Smith stated that according to recent Australian Bureau Statistics figures, “it looks like the risk is increasing in Australia”. However, this study “will seek to better understand important questions related to work injury and its consequences within the context of the ageing Australian labour market.”
The findings, to be derived from a secondary data analysis, are expected to provide greater clarity on current issues pertaining to older workers, occupational health and safety prevention programs and work-injury compensation systems.
“We know that retirement is not a black or white decision. It’s a fuzzy process.
“People leave the labour market [to retire] and come back in. They might come back to a different job, a different set of workplace hazards and they don’t know a lot about how the change, their age, or the different hazards will ultimately impact on compensations systems.
“Any employer trying to retain experienced, older workers in the workforce need to understand how to reduce the risk of injury in this age group and how changes in the labour market interact with [a person’s] age.”
Based on current survey, injury and workers’ compensation data, the researchers will examine trends in work injury rates and the consequences of work injury across age groups in Australia.
Preliminary results are due out by the start of 2013.
The study has been funded by an Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR) grant. ISCRR is a joint venture between Monash University, WorkSafe Victoria and the Transport Accident Commission (TAC).