Are older workers off work longer after an injury because of the nature of their injuries?

In brief

  • Older men and women with work-related injuries remain off work on benefits longer than other workers, and this longer time off work is not explained by the type or severity of their injuries.

Published: January 2016

Why was this study done?

Previous research indicates that older workers are off work and on benefits for longer periods of time following a work-related injury than their younger counterparts. One explanation for this is that older workers sustain more severe and different types of injuries. This study aimed to find out if the severity and type of their injuries does, indeed, explain the longer absences of older injured workers.

How was the study done?

The study looked at workers’ compensation claims data from the period 2005 to 2011 for 54,600 injured workers in Victoria, Australia who were off work and on benefits for over 10 days. Using this data, the researchers were able to study, for men and women separately, the relationship between number of days on benefits in the first year following the injury and age at time of injury, severity of the injury (measured by two things within the first 30 days after the injury—whether they had been hospitalized and total health-care expenditures) and type of injury (e.g. head injury, fracture, burn, and more).

What did the researchers find?

As expected, time off work increased with age among both men and women. Even after accounting for age differences in type and severity of injuries, time off work still increased with age. In other words, the longer absences of older workers were not explained by their having more severe injuries or certain types of injuries. The overall relationship between age and time off work was also similar across different types of injuries and levels of severity.

What are the implications of the study?

The study suggests that type and severity of injuries are not driving the differences among older and younger workers when it comes to time off on benefits after a work-related injury. This, in turn, suggests that injury-specific approaches may not be the best way to address the longer absence durations of older workers. Other factors such as self-efficacy to return to work, physician-worker interactions and workplace offers of modified work may better explain age differences in time off work, but more research is needed to determine if this is the case.

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the study?

The researchers were able to use readily available administrative information to help answer this question, using hospitalization and health-care expenditures to indicate severity. However, the researchers recognized that hospitalization and health-care expenditures are imperfect measures of severity.