The relationship between age and risk of work injury in B.C.

Published: January 2013

Why was this study done?

Previous research generally suggests that workplace injury rates decline with age. This study sought to examine whether that pattern holds for all types of injuries. It also set out to examine whether the increasing participation of older Canadians in the labour force has changed the relationship between age and work injury. This might have occurred if older workers who previously would have left the labour force now stay in the labour force due to financial necessity.

How was the study done?

The study analyzed short-term and long-term disability claims with WorkSafeBC, British Columbia’s workers’ compensation board, during three time periods. These were 1997-1998, 2001-2002 and 2005-2006. With a sample size of about 270,000 claims, the data covered about 93 per cent of the province’s labour force. The claims data provided researchers with information on the claimant’s age, gender, industry and occupation, as well as the nature of the injury. The study looked at claims rates for seven groupings of workplace injuries. These were: trauma to bones, nerves and spinal cord; traumatic brain injuries; open wounds; trauma to muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints; other traumatic injuries; musculoskeletal and connective tissue diseases and disorders; and other non-traumatic injuries including hearing loss, hernias and carpal tunnel syndrome.

What did the researchers find?

The relationship between age and injury varied depending on the type of injury. For open wounds, the relationship was as expected , with the risk of injury starting out higher for younger workers then declining with age. It was the opposite for traumatic injuries to bones, nerves and the spinal cord — injuries such as fractures and dislocations. Older workers were at the highest risk of these types of injuries. For both traumatic and non-traumatic musculoskeletal injuries, the risk was greatest for middle-aged workers from 35 to 44, dropping off among workers who were younger and older. The relative risk of injury across age groups did not change over time. This indicates that the increased participation of older workers in the labour force has had no impact on the relative risk of injury due to age.

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the study?

The sample size is a strength of this study. It covers nearly all labour market participants in a single province during three separate time periods over a span of 10 years. Another strength is its ability to adjust models for important occupational and industrial characteristics and to account for age-related differences in hours worked.

A limitation of the study is that the source data — lost-time claims in B.C. — might underestimate injuries for older workers. That’s because other reports from Canada have shown that older workers are less likely than younger counterparts to claim compensation for injuries that result in going to the hospital, and are less likely to report income from workers’ compensation.