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Loss of balance puts older workers at risk for workplace injuries

Older workers may be more susceptible to suffering work injuries, but that fact does not relieve the employer from the duty to provide workers' compensation benefits to workers of any age who are injured on the job. As people age, certain physical changes take place that create weaknesses in an older person's body. This can lead to more workplace injuries for California workers and in other states. For example, balance can be affected, making an older individual more susceptible to falls. Muscle weaknesses can begin to develop in old age and can combine with perceptual and sensory deficits created by the aging process.

These deficits are usually associated at least partly with the deterioration of the ear and the bone structure in the inner ear. It seems that the inner ear and the brain are important influences on our normal capabilities and their limitations can contribute to work-related injury. As a person ages, eardrums expand and the middle ear bone structure changes, which in turn brings about bone changes to the inner ear also. When hearing is thus affected, one loses a rich connection to the perceptions of depth, distance and spatial relationships. That's a general summary of why older people fall more often and why their falls are more serious.

Thus, a build-up of factors tends to put older workers in a vulnerable position at work. Other bodily dynamics are at play in the aging process to cut down reflexive responses and reaction times. It's not easy to say where any particular individual is in the scale of aging and deterioration without a full battery of neurological and neuropsychological test results. Furthermore, such susceptibility does not justify the denial of no-fault workers' compensation benefits to older workers for workplace injuries.

According to one exercise physiologist, there are things that older workers in California and elsewhere can do to minimize the hazards during the winter season. Thus, one can wear high adherence shoes to cut down on slips and falls. Slowing down and taking the time to focus on one's actions and immediate surroundings is probably the most beneficial approach to increasing safety factors and reducing the risk of workplace injuries.

Source: EHS Today, Off-the-Job Safety: Tis the Season for Slips and Falls, Josh Cable, Dec. 16, 2013

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