Friday, 8 November 2013

Older workers take longer to return to work after work-related injury

In general, older workers usually take longer to return to work after a work-related injury.  The reasons for this are not fully understood, but include older workers suffering more severe injuries, perceptions that older workers may be less capable of returning to work as quickly as younger workers, which may influence healthcare provider–worker and workplace–worker interactions in the return-to-work process, and older workers have a lower functional capacity prior to injury, which impacts on their recovery.

While workers’ compensation claims are a valuable resource to examine risk of work injury and return to work outcomes, this data source often does not contain information about health conditions the injured worker may have had prior to their injury. 

Associate Professor Peter Smith from the Monash Centre of Occupational and Environmental Health recently led a project that examined the impact of eight different pre-existing chronic conditions (diabetes, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, coronary heart disease, thyroid conditions, hearing problems and depression) on age differences in wage replacement among workers’ compensation claimants in British Columbia in Canada. 

Using a unique linked database available through Population Data BC (, chronic conditions were identified using medical billing and hospitalisation information, which was linked to each workers’ compensation record for the five years preceding the work injury. 

Interesting findings include that the relationship between age and days of wage replacement differ for men and women.  Median days of wage replacement increase with age among men, however among women days of wage replacement peak in middle-age.  Diabetes was the only condition which mediated the relationship between age and days of wage replacement among men and women. Osteoarthritis also mediated age difference in wage replacement among men, and coronary heart disease mediated age differences among women.  While a better understanding of the mechanisms linking diabetes to longer durations of wage replacement is required it should be noted that almost three-quarters of the age effect on wage replacement remained unexplained after adjusting for differences in the prevalence of pre-existing conditions across age groups. 

Future studies should explore how other factors in the return-to-work-process differ across age groups.

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