Retrospectively assessed physical work environment during working life and risk of sickness absence and labour market exit among older workers

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Abstract

Objective

To determine the prospective association between retrospectively assessed physical work environment during working life and prospectively assessed sickness absence and labour market exit among older workers.

Methods

Using Cox regression analyses we estimated the 4-year to 6-year prospective risk of register-based long-term sickness absence (LTSA), disability pension, early retirement and unemployment from exposure to different physical work environmental factors during working life among 5076 older workers (age 49–63 at baseline) from the Copenhagen Aging and Midlife Biobank cohort.

Results

Very hard physical work throughout working life was a risk factor for LTSA (HR 1.66,95% CI 1.32 to 2.07), disability pension (HR 2.21,95% CI 1.04 to 4.72) and early retirement (HR 1.57,95% CI 1.13 to 2.17). Both short-term (<10 years) and long-term (≥20 years) exposures to lifting or carrying of heavy burdens predicted the risk of LTSA (HRs 1.49–1.56) and disability pension (HRs 2.26–3.29). In contrast, exposure to dust was associated with LTSA and disability pension only following 20 or more exposure years.

Conclusions

Retrospectively assessed hard physical work during working life and exposure to several factors in the physical work environment, especially heavy lifting, were important for labour market exit and sickness absence. This study underscores the importance of reducing physical work exposures throughout the working life course for preventing sickness absence and premature exit from the labour market.

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