Are older workers getting a bum rap when it comes to injury statistics?

In New Zealand, a group that works for the rights of older people is questioning new national figures that appear to show 1 in 5 older workers had a workplace accident in 2006.

"This claim is needlessly alarming older people and employers," says Jill Williams, president of Age Concern New Zealand. “The increasing number of seniors participating in the workforce is one of the great success stories of positive aging, but this could put the fight against ageism in workplaces back by years."

"The figures just don't stack up: 2006 Census figures show at least 81,369 people aged 65+ worked full-time or part-time. If you divide that by 9,100 claims, that's more like 1 in 9.

"A greater proportion of older workers work part-time: but they've been rolled together in the stats to make full-time equivalents, and that's then being compared with individual Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) claims.

"This is like comparing apples and oranges: dividing the number of older people working by the number of claims and saying that means 1 in 5 have accidents is nonsense. Avoiding false incidence and prevalence comparisons like this is Statistics 101," says Williams.

"We also have trouble believing over 9,100 seniors had workplace accidents in 2006. ACC had 9,100 claims, but that's not the same as accidents.

"It's obvious that older people will be making claims on ACC's workplace account: most will have a lifetime of work behind them. Although they're making fresh claims, these can be for historical accidents or injuries like OOS (Occupational Overuse Syndrome). For example, we know that some of the 24 senior fatalities reported were due to a lifetime of working with hazardous substances like asbestos," says Williams.

Age Concern also says that older workers tend to continue working in statistically more hazardous sectors, like farming and the trades, so they would be expected to have slightly higher injury rates, in line with their colleagues of all ages.