Older people are dying on the job at a higher rate than workers overall, even as the rate of workplace fatalities decreases, according to an AP analysis of federal statistics. It's a trend that's particularly alarming as baby boomers reject the traditional retirement age of 65 and keep working. The US government estimates that by 2024, older workers will account for 25% of the labor market. Getting old—and the physical changes associated with it—"could potentially make a workplace injury into a much more serious injury or a potentially fatal injury," says Ken Scott, an epidemiologist with the Denver Public Health Department.
Gerontologists say those changes include gradually worsening vision and hearing impairment, reduced response time, and balance issues. In 2015, about 35% of the fatal workplace accidents involved a worker 55 and older—or 1,681 of the 4,836 fatalities reported nationally. The AP analysis found that the workplace fatality rate for all workers decreased by 22% between 2006 and 2015. But the rate of fatal accidents among older workers during that time period was 50% to 65% higher than for all workers. Ruth Finkelstein of Columbia University's Aging Center cautions against stereotyping, but says there is a need for more attention to be paid to occupational safety for all workers. (Read more workplace safety stories.)