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Original research
Normative reference values and physical factors associated with work ability: a cross-sectional observational study
  1. Nadine Lebde1,
  2. Joshua Burns1,
  3. Martin Mackey2,
  4. Jennifer Baldwin3,
  5. Marnee McKay1
  1. 1 Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  2. 2 Discipline of Physiotherapy, Ageing, Work and Health Research Unit, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  3. 3 School of Clinical Sciences, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand
  1. Correspondence to Nadine Lebde, Health Sciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2141, Australia; nadine.lebde{at}


Objectives To establish normative reference values for work ability in healthy Australian adults using the Work Ability Score and investigate the association of physical performance factors.

Methods The Work Ability Score was collected from 720 participants aged 18–101 years from the 1000 Norms Project. Physical performance was evaluated by assessing isometric strength of 13 muscle groups; flexibility of six joints; and 11 functional measures categorised as gross motor, fine motor and balance tasks. Correlations and multiple regression analyses were performed to identify physical performance factors independently associated with work ability.

Results Age-stratified reference values were generated for work ability. Work ability increased during young adulthood (18–44 years) and declined from middle adulthood (45–64 years) into older adulthood (65 years), with no sex differences. Greater gross motor function and balance correlated with work ability (r=−0.498 to −0.285; p<0.001). Multiple regression identified younger age, being employed and a faster timed up and down stairs test as significant independent factors associated with work ability (r2=0.333, p<0.001).

Conclusions Reference data can be used to identify individuals with low work ability. This study has identified physical factors associated with work ability that can potentially be targeted to maintain longevity in work. Physical tests such as the timed up and down stairs test may assist in the development of objective job-specific screening tools to assess work ability, supplementing subjective evaluation.

  • occupational health practice
  • health screening
  • fitness for work

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  • Contributors The author carried out the literature review; submitted a request to the 1000 Norms Steering Committee for access to specific 1000 Norms Project raw data; analysed data; and reported the data in a final manuscript. Coauthors MarnM and JoB assisted with planning, drafting, provision of data gathered from the 1000 Norms Project, data analysis and data interpretation. Coauthors JeB and associate MartM coedited the final manuscript. MartM further assisted with study methodology and the literature review, and JeB with data collection.

  • Funding The 1000 Norms Project was supported by grants from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia Centre for Research Excellence in Neuromuscular Disorders (NHMRC #1031893) and Australian Podiatry Education and Research Foundation. These assisted with provision and calibration of testing equipment (such as hand-held dynamometers), PhD scholarships and reimbursement of participants’ out of pocket travel expenses.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available on reasonable request. The author will consider providing access to anonymised data on reasonable request.