The Yomiuri ShimbunMore than one-fourth of all workers who were injured or died in work-related accidents were aged 60 and older last year, according to statistics compiled by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.
It was the first time that the proportion exceeded 25 percent. Elderly workers apparently are concentrated in occupations involving heavy physical burdens that young people tend to avoid, such as cleaning and security guard work, and are injured from falling or other reasons.
On the other hand, the government aims to establish legislation that allows people to work until age 70. Amid such a situation, an expert has pointed out that improving the work environment for elderly people is an urgent task.
“I didn’t think I would suffer a serious injury doing cleaning work,” said a 69-year-old woman who is on leave from her part-time cleaning job at a building maintenance company in Naka Ward, Yokohama. “I am afraid I will not be able to walk as before.”
The woman had worked at a racetrack but retired after reaching the retirement age. She began working as a cleaner in 2016 to earn money for her ill husband’s treatment. In May last year, she fell when she cleaned the stairs at a building where she was in charge. She was taken to a hospital by ambulance having suffered severe injuries, breaking her neck and right leg. She still cannot walk without the aid of a walking stick.
After the work-related accident, the company asked her to resign from work saying that her injury resulted in an increased burden on other employees so that it needed to hire another worker.
“I was shocked because I felt like I was thrown away after getting injured,” she said.
According to statistics on work-related accidents released by the ministry in May, out of workers who were injured or died in such accidents, 26 percent, or 33,246 people, were those aged 60 and older last year, up more than 10 percentage points over about two decades. Both the proportion and the number are the largest since the ministry began recording statistics under the current standards in 1999.
Of all workers, those aged 60 and older accounted for 21 percent last year, according to the Labor Force Survey by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry. Given this, the pace of aging of victims of work-related accidents exceeds that of the aging of the workforce.
A look at workers who were injured or died in work-related accidents by type of occupation reveals that the percentage of work-related accident victims aged 60 and older stood out in the security workers sector at 47 percent and the cleaning and slaughterhouse worker sector at 45 percent. The most common type of work-related accident was a fall.
10% in their 20s
Looking at workers in the carrying, cleaning, packaging and related jobs by age group, the percentage of such workers in their 20s was 11 percent while that of those in their 60s and older amounted to 33 percent. The similar tendency was seen among security workers. This shows that elderly people are working in sectors that are unpopular among young workers.
When it comes to jobs such as cleaning and security guards, young people apparently tend to avoid them because it is difficult to find opportunities to advance their careers in such sectors and because they do not like physical labor. For elderly workers, though their leg muscles and eyesight have weakened, they are required to engage in the same work as that of younger workers, which results in them getting injured in cases such as falls.
Working until 70
The government plans to revise the Stabilization of Employment of Elderly Persons Law by next year at the earliest so that people can work until age 70 if they wish to do so. The number of elderly workers is expected to increase at a more rapid pace going forward.
The Tokyo-based Japan Industrial Safety and Health Association compiled cases concerning measures to prevent work-related accidents involving elderly workers. This introduces cases such as the introduction of anti-slip shoes and the implementation of exercises to prevent falls.
“When it comes to a fall, elderly people may suffer serious aftereffects,” said Shigeru Wakita, a professor emeritus at Ryukoku University in Kyoto and an expert on labor law. “If the government promotes the employment of elderly workers, it should quickly establish a legal system to make all companies thoroughly implement safety measures for them, such as avoiding assigning tasks involving heavy physical burdens on elderly workers and enhancing training.”Speech