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Health and Safety Needs of Older Workers
First, how much do workplace accommodations cost? The President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities (1995) suggested that the cost of accommodating an employee with a disability is low, averaging about $200. Blanck (1996) found similar results when examining the costs of accommodations at the Sears Roebuck Company. However, these early estimates may well be significantly lower than the true costs because they were prepared by advocates of the ADA who construed the costs very narrowly. Instead, for example, of just accounting for the cost to buy special equipment, it would be useful to give an accounting of the full opportunity cost of accommodating an average person with a disability. These costs would need to include the time of other employees and managers involved in the accommodation, as well as the time of the disabled person (Chirikos, 2000). It is also likely that the accommodations sampled are not representative of the range of accommodations that may be implemented in the future. One could argue that the least expensive accommodations are likely to be implemented first. Subsequent accommodations might be more expensive (Chirikos, 2000).
Second, how frequent are workplace accommodations? Which accommodations are most frequently provided and who gets them? Daly and Bound (1996) used data from the Health and Retirement Study, a longitudinal panel study of older Americans, to examine the experience of older workers (51–61 years of age) when they had the onset of a medical condition that limited the work they could do. They found that about half of the workers stayed at their current jobs; just less than a quarter changed jobs; just over a quarter stopped working. Of those who remained with their employer, 29 percent of the men and 37 percent of the women received accommodations. Those who changed employers were less likely to receive accommodations: 14 percent of the men and 29 percent of the women. The most commonly provided accommodations included the alteration of job duties, assistance with the job, a change in schedule or a shorter work day, and more breaks. These results are consistent with previous work that suggested that up to one-third of workers experiencing a disability report some type of employer accommodation (Lando, Cutler, and Gamber, 1982; Schechter, 1981; Chirikos, 1991).
Third, how effective are workplace accommodations in allowing workers to remain safely and productively in the workforce? The goal of workplace accommodations is to allow workers with a range of impairments to enter or remain in the workplace. There have been very few studies exploring the effectiveness of these accommodations. In two studies, Burkhauser and colleagues (Burkhauser, Butler, and Kim, 1995; Burkhauser et al., 1999) has addressed this issue. Applying a proportional hazards analysis to the HIS component of the 1978 Survey of Disability and Work, Burkhauser