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Original research
Normative reference values and physical factors associated with work ability: a cross-sectional observational study


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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