Serving Up Safety for Older Workers in Today’s Market
Jul 30, 2019

In today’s labor market there seems to be a dearth of qualified candidates from the traditional restaurant labor pool.  For June 2019, the unemployment rate is at an almost 50 year low at 3.7%   Additionally the U.S. has roughly 1 million more jobs than we have workers seeking those jobs. With these conditions, it is even more difficult for restaurants to both attract and retain good employees.  Are the already retired, second career, and/or senior citizens the right choice to fill this void? 

Many, at least in the quick service restaurant space, seem to think so. And some have gone as far as to partner with premier associations aligned with this population in an effort to attract these potential employees. 

While specific hiring decisions are left to the restaurant manager in compliance with recruiting / hiring guidelines established at a particular concept or brand, they must adapt their hiring practices, new employee training and safety procedures to fit the workforce demographics, such as the age of the workforce.


What Does the Data Say?

We analyzed severity data of our restaurant WC book of business to analyze workers’ compensation accidents over the most recent five years that covered claims with total incurred greater than $15. 

When looking at the average cost of closed indemnity and medical only claims, workers aged 65 and older have an average cost that is 112% higher than those aged 64 and below.

As exhibited in the below graphs, the trend lines have a positive slope proving our underlying hypothesis:  as workers increase in age, so does the cost of their claims.   


Average Cost (Closed Indemnity & Medical Only)

Chart depicting average cost of claim on Y-axis charted against age on the X-axis, showing increased cost associated with age.

In looking at just the medical component for older workers, average medical spend is 97% greater than those aged 64 and below.


Average Medical Spend (Closed Indemnity & Medical Only)

Chart depicting average medical cost of claim on Y-axis charted against age on the X-axis, showing increased cost associated with age.


Safety Tips for Older Workers

With the advent of these aged workers in our workforce, the focus needs to be on risk control measures to minimize both injury frequency and severity to this segment of your labor pool.  Trending data indicates high levels of exertion claims and slip/trip/falls across our restaurant book of business.  The impact of these trends on an older workforce is highlighted by our understanding of the relationship of higher costs on post injury interventions and treatment, and can be mitigated using loss prevention tailored to a more seasoned worker. 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data identifies that, while falls are a major cause of unintentional death and injury to all, falls pose an especially significant threat to the health and independence of older Americans.  Each year, more than one in four adults aged 65 and older experience a fall. Problems with mobility, balance, and loss of muscle strength contribute to the likelihood of falling. People are living longer and living with chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, and arthritis. These illnesses, as well as many of the medications used to treat them, can contribute to and increase fall risk.


The best way to control claims related to falls is to proactively manage your environment to eliminate the possibility for falls to occur. Below we offer some recommendations on things to avoid for older employees and tips on proactive care measures to incorporate into your safety program.


Things to Avoid:

Slip/ Trip/ Falls

  • Flooring – use non-slip tile/flooring, focus on spills/housekeeping
  • Footwear – while advances in technology have improved performance, employers need to select specific non-slip footwear for their environment, and enforce use
  • Fatigue – consider scheduling shifts, tasks and job rotation
  • Actively keep older workers off ladders. Recognize that their experience may lead them and others to ‘take-on’ additional tasks that are outside the scope of their work such as equipment repair/adjustment, or tasks that require them to use ladders. 



  • Weight limit considerations – may be taking on too much at a time, older workers have memories/experience in being able to lift more easily and without consequence as they do now.  Ensure that training is effective for this demographic.
  • Awkward lifts –consider the size of containers such as buckets/bins used in cleaning and back of house operations like changing kegs or compressed gasses.


Proactive Care Steps

  • Establish ‘early intervention’ programs to ensue issues are presented sooner rather than after significant degradation.  According to a study on 65+ year old workers, only one‐third of those who fall seek medical care.
  • Work with appropriate professionals to incorporate stretching/flexing/warm-up regiments. These are proven methods for reducing both the frequency and severity of claims.  The National Institute on Aging at NIH provides free support as part of their Go4Life campaign on basic balance and exercise for older adults
  • Ensure effective communication/training for more experienced workers.  Focus on making the communication process ‘safe’ and ‘encouraged’ rather than a ‘complaint’.  Older workers may have experienced repression of reporting of health concerns at other places of employment, requiring employers to ‘un-do’ much of the worker’s bias against early reporting. 


A safe workplace is in everyone’s best interest.  Incorporating these tips into your safety procedures will ensure workers of all ages remain safe.


Tim Kelly has 30 years of industry experience and leads the Restaurant & Foodservice Practice at GB. You can find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Vernon Iturralde is a CSP with over 20 years of experience in worker safety.   Vern is a frequent speaker at industry events and has significant experience in the Restaurant & Foodservice space.  You can find him on LinkedIn.


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