America's work force is aging, with over 58 million workers over the median age of 45 expected by the year 2006. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 1998–2008, the number of civilian workers 55 and over will increase by 49.9%, while those 25–54 will increase by only 5.5% and those 16–24 will actually decrease by 2.8% (Fullerton, 1999). This decline will lead to a proportionally smaller pool of younger workers. Legislation and public attention has focused on the protection of older workers. In 1967 the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was passed. It prevented workers over 45 years from being denied employment based solely on age. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provided further protection of older workers in 1990. Under the ADA, employers are required to make job modifications to accommodate workers with sensory or manual deficits. Along with demographic changes and legislation that protects older workers, the nation will continue to see an unprecedented increase in the number of companies employing older workers.
These demographic changes will have serious social and economic consequences. In fact, policy makers have turned their attention towards increasing employment opportunities for older workers because of the serious demand that may be placed on alternative sources of income such as social security benefits. Watson Wyatt Worldwide, a leading human resource firm states "To spend the same number of years collecting benefits as the typical U.S. worker retiring at age 65 in 1935, the U.S. Social Security Administration projects that the typical worker in 2050 would have to wait until age 76 before retiring - a number that assumes only modest gains in longevity". In addition, a recent Harris Survey finds that there are 3.7 million people over 55 who are not currently working but who would like to work and are ready, willing and able to work. This includes one million people aged 55-64 and 2.7 million aged 65 and over (Humphrey 1999).
As people age, they are at a higher risk for several diseases and their resistance to harmful exposures is reduced. Additionally, injuries are often much more severe, if not fatal (Runge, 1993). Major findings from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries state that the elderly have a higher risk of workplace fatalities relative to their share of employment. Workers over 55 have higher fatality rates from transportation accidents and falls than any other age category (Toscano & Windau, 1993). Some of the major reasons for falls include environmental hazards, loss of physical fitness, and adverse effects of medications (Tibbitts, 1996). The consequences are often devastating, resulting in substantial morbidity and psychological trauma. The interaction effect of age and height of falls is worth noting. Investigators, using NIOSH data found, that older workers are at increased risk of falls, and after age 45 this increase becomes dramatic.