The accident rate of older employees is not higher but different.

Physical fitness declines with age, but most of all the ability to react quickly. Nevertheless, older employees do not have accidents more frequently. Their injuries, however, are often more serious and the resulting costs higher than for younger employees.

Older employees – fewer accidents but higher costs

Just 19 percent of all occupational accidents involve people aged over 50 years. They are, however, responsible for 30 percent of all the costs associated with accidents in Switzerland. Expressed in absolute terms: 50,000 occupational accidents are suffered by people aged over 50 years that lead to half a billion Swiss francs in insurance payments.

The costs of an occupational accident suffered by a 30-year-old come to an average of CHF 3,500. Those of a 55-year-old amount to CHF 8,000. This massive difference is presumed to be due to two reasons. Firstly, older people earn more and as a result have a higher rate of daily medical benefits. Secondly, older people tend to have more serious accidents, taking longer to recover, which leads to higher medical expenses.

As the number of people over 50 in employment throughout Switzerland – with the exception of professional athletes – is set to increase dramatically in the coming years, it is clear that action is required. In the near future, the over-50s will represent an important target group in terms of occupational safety measures.

What kind of accidents do older employees have?

Swiss accident statistics show that older and younger employees have accidents when carrying out the same activities. The differences lie in the types of accident. 35 percent of all occupational accidents involving people over the age of 50 are tripping accidents. For younger people, the proportion is much lower: 21 percent for the under-30s, and 28 percent for the under-50s. Knocking into or against something is observed in older employees with a slightly higher frequency and this often happens when someone slips and hits their elbow or head.  Among the older generation, impact injuries such as cuts, stab wounds and abrasions happen with much lower frequency.

Avoiding tripping accidents

The Federal Commission for Occupational Safety FCOS provides online tools free of charge that help, among others, to track down and prevent tripping accidents in the office. Find more information about tools and tips for occupational safety and health protection in the office at

There are also differences in the pattern of injuries between different age groups. The injuries suffered most frequently by all the age groups involve the hand, foot, and ankle. Accidents suffered by older people often also involve more complex structures such as the knee, shoulder, elbow, torso or back. This explains one aspect of the higher costs.

Experience vs. physical fitness

Professional experience increases with age. Older employees understand the hazards and the rules for safety. Based on their experience, older people can avoid certain accidents. The opposite is true for accidents that are linked to physical fitness. Physical fitness is made up of three elements: reaction speed, sense of balance and strength. As the presence of all three diminishes with age, accidents that involve physical fitness are more frequent with older employees.

This shows that the experience of older employees can be used in order to avoid accidents. At the same time, physically fit younger employees should be used to take the strain off older employees. A pact of mutual support between the generations in terms of experience and physical fitness could serve to contribute to reducing the frequency of accidents at work for both younger as well as older employees.


This article was first published in its unabridged version in German in the EKAS Mitteilungsblatt No. 84 in May 2017. Author: Rahel Rüetschli, Statistics Team Leader, Suva, Lucerne.


Useful aids and information on age management at work (in German) is provided by SECO.

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