Introduction The world’s population is ageing. This creates a need to work for longer, both for income and to provide an adequate labour force. For those employed in predominantly physically demanding jobs this means they are prolonging their exposure to risk factors known to increase the likelihood of a musculoskeletal injury when their work capacity may be declining. The work ability of older workers has been most frequently assessed using the Work Ability Index (WAI). Several studies have reported significant associations between low WAI scores and sickness absence and early retirement. Relatively fewer studies have examined associations between WAI scores and specific workplace risk factors. The purpose of this study was to investigate the association between a range of workplace risk factors and the WAI scores in a cohort of workers employed in physically demanding jobs.
Methods A cross-sectional survey of workers employed in physically demanding roles within a local government council was undertaken. The survey instruments included questions on demographic and employment characteristics, physical and psychosocial risk factors, pain and discomfort, and the Work Ability Index.
Result The survey was completed by 155/245 of eligible workers – a 63% response rate. Respondents had a mean age of 44 years. They were predominantly male (86%) with an average length of employment of 12 years. Bivariate regression analyses were undertaken to examine the relationship between WAI scores and age, pain/discomfort, levels of stress, irritation, job satisfaction, work-life balance, and 49 other work environment risk factors. Significant associations with WAI scores were seen for age, pain/discomfort and physical and psychosocial risk factors. The WAI score was reduced by more than 2.5 points for those who reported higher levels of exposure to a range of physical and psychosocial risk factors compared with those who reported lower levels of exposure.
Discussion It was found that the WAI provided a useful means to identify a range of workplace risk factors which, if addressed, could inform the development of interventions to maintain a healthy, older workforce. It is proposed that tailoring interventions using this approach should enhance their effectiveness.