High-risk jobs for older workers, now and in the future, are jobs that present exposure to relatively common work risks. These risks have already been characterized, but their prevalence among older workers bears review. The National Health Interview Survey supplement in 1988 provides an estimate of common types of risks and their prevalence by age. The most common risks are biomechanical. (Table A-19 in Appendix A shows biomechanical risks that occur for specific work activities engaged in four or more hours per day.) Among women, 10 percent of those surveyed report repeated strenuous physical activity; almost a quarter report repeated bending, twisting, or reaching; more than one-third report bending or twisting of hands or wrists; but only 3.5 percent report hand operation of vibrating machinery. The prevalence of these biochemical risk factors was higher among men, although the reported difference for bending or twisting of hands or wrists four or more hours per day was similar (40 percent) to that of women. When examined by age of worker the prevalence is somewhat lower for those 45–64 years for each of the biomechanical risk factors; however, even for those 65 and older there is a substantial amount of bending or twisting of hands or wrists of four or more hours (22 percent of employed women and 25 percent of employed men), as well as repeated bending and twisting or reaching (12 percent of employed women and 20 percent of employed men).
The survey also assessed exposures to substances believed to be harmful if breathed or contacted by the skin, and radiation exposure (Table A-20 shows data indicating number and percent distribution of employed adults reporting exposure to substances or radiation at work in 1992). Less than 5 percent of the employed population of women and only 6 percent of employed men reported radiation exposure, with slightly lower percentages among those aged 45 to 64 and even less among those 65 or older. Combining reported harmful exposures, the prevalence is much higher (23 percent for women and 39 percent for men). The prevalence among women is stable for all age groups until 65 or older. Among men, while the exposures decrease for those aged 45 to 64, over one-third still report such exposure. These exposures are almost 20 percent, even among men 65 or older.
In Chapter 2 we identified industries and occupations that are older-worker-intensive. Among those industries the following appear to represent higher risk for both biomechanical and other hazardous exposures: manufacturing, transportation, medical services, mining, utilities, agriculture, and forestry/fishing/trapping. With the exception of mining and forestry/ fishing/trapping, each of these industries is projected to experience at least moderate growth in employment.