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Workers 55 to 64 Report Highest Rates of Work-Related Illness or Injury

Back pain is the most common ailment, according to CDC figures

MTY9YM side view of senior businessman suffering from pain in back while sitting at workplace
Alamy

Employees ages 55 to 64 are nearly twice as likely as the youngest adult workers to have experienced work-related injuries or illnesses, according to results of a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Back pain was the most common problem.

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In its “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report” dated April 3, the CDC said 41.3 percent of 55-to-64-year-olds who were on the job in 2018 had had a work-related health issue. That contrasts with a 21.7 percent rate reported by 18-to-24-year-old employees. Among those 64 or younger, the rate rose with each decade measured, ranging from 34.5 to 39.5 percent from ages 25 to 54.

For employees ages 65 to 74, the rate was 33 percent; it fell to 29.1 percent among employees 75 and older.

Overall, 35.1 percent of American workers said they have had a work-related injury or illness.

Back pain was the most prevalent injury or illness, with 19.4 percent saying they have experienced it because of their work. Among all industries, construction recorded the highest rate of worker-related injuries — 48.6 percent.

According to the Mayo Clinic, back pain can result from either activity or inactivity. The use of force, like lifting or moving heavy objects, can cause back pain. But also, Mayo warns, “an inactive job or a desk job can contribute to back pain, especially if you have poor posture or sit all day in a chair with inadequate back support.” Repetitive motions associated with desk work can also be a factor in back pain.

Though physical injury or illness was much more common, the CDC survey also found that some 6.3 percent of workers said a mental health problem like depression was work-related.

The CDC stressed that its numbers may not reflect the full extent of the on-the-job connection to illness and injury, in part because only current employees were surveyed.

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"Because respondents who left the workforce because of a work-related health problem, retirement, family commitments or other reasons were not captured by this analysis,” the authors wrote, “these results are still not capturing the entirety of work-related illnesses and injuries in the United States. Work-related health problems likely represent a public health problem that is larger than is assumed because of lack of information."

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In its summary of implications for its findings, the CDC recommends efforts to reduce the numbers for work-related illness and injury, taking particular note of the most widespread complaint.

"Workplace injury and illness prevention programs are needed to prevent work-related health problems, such as back pain,” the report's authors wrote, “and reduce the number of health problems in higher-risk industries such as construction."

Age Breakdown of Workplace Illness or Injury

Work-related injury and illness by age
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