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Document 1800474
Health and Safety
Executive
Ageing and work-related musculoskeletal disorders
A review of the recent literature
Prepared by the Health and Safety Laboratory
for the Health and Safety Executive 2010
RR799
Research Report
Health and Safety
Executive
Ageing and work-related musculoskeletal disorders
A review of the recent literature
Olanre Okunribido & Tony Wynn
Health and Safety Laboratory
Harpur Hill
Buxton
Derbyshire
SK17 9JN
This work was commissioned to provide a review of the recent literature concerning ageing and
occupational MSD, and to carry out scoping activities to inform the formulation of future policy or guidance
and provision of advice. However, as the findings were developed, the scoping element was dropped at the
customer’s request.
Attitudes towards ageing and work are changing; more employers regard older workers as a valuable
asset and are willing to keep current employees on for longer periods past the usual retirement age. Older
workers are more susceptible to work-related MSD than younger workers because of decreased functional
capacity; the propensity for injury is related more to the difference between the demands of work and the
worker’s physical work capacity (or work ability) rather than their age. An older workforce has implications
for the health and safety responsibilities of employers. These include providing additional support for
worker requirements, changing the workplace attitudes towards ageing, providing a positive knowledge
base, adjusting the workplace design and accommodations and improving worker/employer relationships
(co-operation).
This report and the work it describes were funded by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Its contents,
including any opinions and/or conclusions expressed, are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily
reflect HSE policy.
HSE Books
© Crown copyright 2010
First published 2010
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.
Applications for reproduction should be made in writing to:
Licensing Division, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office,
St Clements House, 2-16 Colegate, Norwich NR3 1BQ
or by e-mail to [email protected]
ii
CONTENTS
1 INTRODUCTION......................................................................................... 1
1.1
Background ............................................................................................. 1
1.2
Rationale and aims .................................................................................. 1
2 METHODOLOGY........................................................................................ 3
2.1
Search strategy ....................................................................................... 3
2.2
Exclusions ............................................................................................... 3
3
HSL WORK ON AGE AND WORK ............................................................ 5
4 REVIEW OF AGEING AND MSD LITERATURE (2003 – 2009) ................ 7
4.1
Demographic trends ................................................................................ 7
4.2
Ageing and functional capability .............................................................. 9
4.3
Prevalence/incidence of MSD................................................................ 11
4.4
Consequences of MSD.......................................................................... 14
4.5
The quality of the evidence for age as risk factor .................................. 18
5 DISCUSSION............................................................................................ 27
5.1
Current thinking ..................................................................................... 27
5.2
Susceptibility to MSD............................................................................. 28
5.3
Implications of ageing workforce ........................................................... 28
6
CONCLUSIONS........................................................................................ 31
7
RECOMMENDATIONS............................................................................. 33
8
REFERENCES.......................................................................................... 35
iii
iv
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Objectives
This work was commissioned to provide a review of the recent literature concerning ageing and
occupational musculoskeletal disorders (MSD), and to carry out scoping activities to inform the
formulation of future policy or guidance and provision of advice. It had the following five
objectives:
• To identify current scientific thinking about the subject.
• To evaluate if individuals are more susceptible to MSD in the workplace as they age.
• To identify the implications of an ageing workforce on the health and safety
responsibilities of employers.
• To identify in broad terms those areas in which HSE’s existing guidance need material
changes to take account of the specific nature of ageing workers
• To identify information that can enable provision of advice to people who enquire about
accommodating older workers.
However, as the findings were developed, the scoping element was dropped at the customer’s
request. Consequently, the project was concluded with three objectives being addressed through
the literature review stage, as follows:
• To identify current scientific thinking about the subject.
• To evaluate if individuals are more susceptible to MSD in the workplace as they age.
• To identify the implications of an ageing workforce on the health and safety
responsibilities of employers.
Main Findings
Attitudes towards ageing and work are changing. More employers regard older workers as a
valuable asset and are willing to keep current employees on for longer periods past the usual
retirement age. However, while many do now appreciate the value of older workers, only a few
workplaces actually implement measures, to support and increase their retention of older
workers.
Age is not an independent risk factor for work-related MSD. Older workers are more
susceptible to work-related MSD than younger workers because of decreased functional
capacity. The propensity for injury is related more to the difference between the demands of
work and the worker’s physical work capacity (or work ability) rather than their age.
An older workforce has implications for the health and safety responsibilities of employers.
These include providing additional support for worker requirements, changing the workplace
attitudes towards ageing, providing a positive knowledge base, adjusting the workplace design
and accommodations and improving worker/employer relationships (co-operation).
Recommendations
It is recommended that awareness campaigns are implemented to disseminate the benefits of
ageing workers in the workplace and raise awareness of those elements of the workplace that
v
are not suited to their needs. The expectation is that this will change the attitudes of employers
and employees towards ageing and aged workers.
vi
1
1.1
INTRODUCTION BACKGROUND
The European Union (EU) Agency for Safety and Health (OSHA) describe age as one of the
factors that can lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) 1 . The UK government’s policy in
this area is to increase the number of people aged 50+ in employment by over 1 million, so
that 80% of people of working age are employed. If this aim were achieved, the ratio of
workers to non-workers would be the same in 2050 as it is now, despite the increasing age of
the population. 2
The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) policy concerning ageing and work, which is to fit
the job to the worker, allow for workplace changes to be made because of an employee’s age,
and holds the view that age in itself is not a risk factor for work-related MSD. An exception to
this are diseases that affect the muscles and bones, such as arthritis, which are generally age
related and some occupations may exacerbate these conditions or increase the likelihood of
their early onset (Olsson et al. 2004). Evidence supporting HSE’s policy, has been provided
from recently commissioned Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) research on ageing,
Facts and misconceptions about age, health status and employability (Benjamin and Wilson,
2005), undertaken by The Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL). The work showed that there
are many misconceptions about the effect of age on employability and indicated that
employers, workers and even health and safety professionals do not always share HSE’s
current policy view.
It is important that HSE is aware of the current scientific thinking on the topic of MSD and
ageing, so that its policy can be adjusted if necessary. This is becoming increasingly
important, as the issue of age, work, and the risk of musculoskeletal disorders is one that is
being raised more often. Specifically, HSE needs information to help it assess what impact an
increase in the number of employed older workers will have on both duty holders’
responsibilities and on HSE’s responsibilities for guidance to government and employers.
1.2
RATIONALE AND AIMS
MSD are impairments of the bodily structures, such as muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments and
nerves, which are caused or aggravated primarily by the performance of work and by the
effects of the immediate environment in which work is carried out (OSHA, 2007). They carry
a high cost in terms of lost workdays in addition to medical treatment costs, making them an
important issue for employers. For Great Britain, it has been reported that MSDs affect
around 1.0 million people a year (Jones et al., 2006) and are amongst the most frequently
reported occupational illnesses among older workers (Silverstein, 2008). Peele et al. (2005)
reported that MSD comprised 34% of all work-related injuries in the US and opined that
MSDs in working populations might have a more pronounced effect on older workers than
young workers. This was based on observations that physiologically, young adults have
superior muscular performance peaking around age 33 and that recovery time for
musculoskeletal injuries lengthens with age. Gardner et al. (2008) identified MSD as the
1
2
The website address is http://osha.europa.eu/priority_groups/ageingworkers/hazards_html
See http://www.dwp.gov.uk/opportunity_age/volume1/summary.asp
1
leading work-related health concern in the developed world, accounting for up to 30% of all
injuries requiring time away from work.
A review of the evidence regarding ageing and working with specific reference to MSD was
considered necessary at this time to ensure that important issues are not overlooked, that
future advice provided is evidence based, and to enable forward projection in respect of the
implications for compliance by duty-holders and the verbal and written guidance provided by
HSE on MSDs and an older workforce.
This work was commissioned to provide a review of the recent literature concerning ageing
and occupational MSD, and to carry out scoping activities to inform the formulation of future
policy or guidance and provision of advice. It had the following five objectives:
• To identify current scientific thinking about the subject.
• To evaluate if individuals are more susceptible to MSD in the workplace as they age.
• To identify the implications of an ageing workforce on the health and safety
responsibilities of employers.
• To identify in broad terms those areas in which HSE’s existing guidance need
material changes to take account of the specific nature of ageing workers
• To identify information that can enable provision of advice to people who enquire
about accommodating older workers.
However, as the findings were developed, the scoping element was dropped at the customer’s
request. Consequently, the project was concluded with three objectives being addressed
through the literature review stage, as follows:
• To identify current scientific thinking about the subject.
• To evaluate if individuals are more susceptible to MSD in the workplace as they age.
• To identify the implications of an ageing workforce on the health and safety
responsibilities of employers.
2
2
2.1
METHODOLOGY
SEARCH STRATEGY
Three HSL reactive support projects reports concerning ageing and older workers were
identified and reviewed.
The following activities were undertaken to identify other relevant published research articles
and other sources of information:
• Searches of databases (MEDLINE, OSHROM, Ergonomics Abstracts) were conducted,
using key words (Ageing, Age, Older, Worker, Injury, Disorders, Musculoskeletal, Pain,
Interventions)
• Web searches using the Google scholar search engine and similar key words. The search
activity was done periodically to ensure that relevant current reports were not missed.
2.2
EXCLUSIONS
Reports published before 2003 and those that were not focused on MSD as an occupational
problem or did not include aged workers (those aged 50 years or more) were excluded. The
scope for the work was deliberately restricted because most of the pre-2003 studies had been
captured in previous HSL work.
3
4
3
HSL WORK ON AGE AND WORK
This section provides an overview of the key findings from previous related HSL work,
namely Shearn (2005), Benjamin and Wilson (2005) and Harris and Higgins (2006). This is
meant to provide a context for discussion of the findings from the current updating work
(2003-present).
The work by Shearn (2005) reviewed the literature to provide an overview of the implications
of the demographic ageing of the UK’s labour force and to identify future employment
scenarios for older workers. He found that:
• There was a degree of variability in how older workers were defined, in respect of age
ranges used to designate older workers, e.g., 45-65 yrs, 60-65 yr, and 50-70 yrs, though in
most cases the term was used to refer to individuals in their late 50s to mid 60s.
• Significant demographic change is predicted over forthcoming decades such that, older
workers will constitute a greater proportion of the available workforce, and their needs
will require supporting, and the health and productivity of older workers given greater
attention.
• Older individuals tend to be employed in occupations that vary substantially by gender
and reflect traditional trends. In that, males are proportionally over-represented in
managerial, professional, skilled trades, machine operative and elementary occupations
and women are represented in administrative and elementary occupations with relatively
few employed in skilled trades or machine operator occupations.
Shearn (2005) concluded from the review that if they are to facilitate the predicted levels of
older worker activity, employers would need to establish better provisions for ‘back to work’
rehabilitation, offer incentives for older worker training, enable a greater degree of flexible
working patterns and introduce improvements to the work environment.
Benjamin and Wilson (2005) reviewed the prevailing literature concerning age, health status
and employability of people with three main aims; first, to dispel inaccurate perceptions about
older adults, secondly to demonstrate that health and safety cannot be used as an “excuse” to
justify the exclusion of older workers, thirdly to raise awareness about older workers’ ability
to work and the benefits of engaging older workers. They identified nine common beliefs
about ageing and older workers:
• Chronological age determines health and age brings illness and disease;
• Getting older is associated with loss of cognitive capacity;
• Older workers have less physical strength and endurance;
• Older workers tend to have poorer sensory abilities such as sight and hearing;
• Older workers take more time off sick;
• Older workers have difficulty adapting to change;
• Older workers find it hard to learn new information making their knowledge and skills
outdated;
• Older workers have more accidents in the workplace;
• Older workers are less productive. Based on analysis of the information and data gathered from a variety of sources, for example
statistics from the Office of National Statistics, published journal articles and reports, the key findings from the work were that: 5
• Chronological age is not the most important determinant of health, and ageing does not
inevitably bring illness and disease. Health is influenced by numerous other factors,
particularly lifestyle and amount of exercise and nutrition.
• Physical strength and endurance is very specific to individuals’, such that some older
workers may be stronger and more physically able than their younger colleagues.
• Older workers do not always take more time off work than younger workers. Indeed,
older workers tend to take less short term/non-certified sickness absences than younger
workers, which is the biggest source of absence and disruption for employers. Older
workers by contrast, take more long-term/medically certified sickness absences, due
largely to chronic disease.
• Older workers do not always have more accidents in the workplace than younger workers.
Accident rates vary in terms of a number of factors such as type of accident and, in
general, younger workers are reported to have a higher propensity for accidents in the
workplace than older workers.
Benjamin and Wilson (2005) concluded from the findings that:
• Older adults are vastly different from each other due to the interaction of both external
and internal factors with the process of ageing.
• No stereotype of older workers is likely to be true for all, or even for most older workers,
particularly, the belief that chronological age is the most important determinant of health
or of older workers taking more time off work.
Finally the more recent review by Harris and Higgins (2006) was carried out to provide an
overview of organisational interventions that can help prevent retirement among older
workers and to offer practical advice and information for retention of older workers. They
found that:
• Older workers constitute a valuable resource for all organizations, due to their increased
reliability compared to younger workers, their greater commitment and dedication to
duty, decreased turnover and absenteeism and a diversity of expertise, knowledge and
skills sets that they possess.
• There is a reasonable quantity of information relating to the retention of older workers,
but little literature detailing specific organisational interventions that have been
implemented.
This review showed that there are benefits for organisations by retaining older workers and
that to prevent early retirement of the ageing workforce, organisations should aim to promote
job satisfaction and maintain the health and productivity of older workers. This could be
achieved through job redesign, and flexible working and retirement arrangements.
In summary, the three pieces of previous HSL work have shown that:
• In Britain like many developed nations, the populations including worker populations are
ageing and this has generated increased research in order to effectively control age related
workplace risks, particularly those associated with occupational ill health.
• Age is not the most important determinant of health, nor does ageing inevitably bring
illness and disease. Negative beliefs about ageing, including that older age is a risk factor
for injury at work, have however, tended to preclude older workers from workplaces.
• As the proportion of older workers increases, new responsibilities for health and safety of
the workforce may be placed on employers.
The sections that follow review current research (from 2003 to present date) concerning
ageing workers and development of musculoskeletal disorders.
6
4
REVIEW OF AGEING AND MSD LITERATURE (2003 – 2009) This section of the report presents the findings from the literature searches concerning
musculoskeletal disorders and ageing/older age as a risk factor.
4.1
DEMOGRAPHIC TRENDS
The literature regarding demographic trends suggests the nature of the labour force in many
countries, particularly developed countries, is changing. Older workers (50 years and over)
are becoming more prevalent in the workplace (Terranova, 2004; Whiting, 2005; Harris,
2006; Hoonakker et al., 2006; Alpass and Mortimer 2007; Hotopp, 2007). According to
Silverstein (2008), increased life expectancy due to improvements in health and a decrease in
birth rate over the years is leading to a progressive ageing of society. Whiting (2005) provides
evidence that the rate at which companies are employing older workers has increased
significantly since 1992, with a marked increase over the last decade and that, workers over
the age of 50 are already becoming a defining part of the labour market. Hottopp (2007)
reported for the UK that the employment rate of older workers has continued to increase since
1992 and particularly over the last decade.
Data from the UK Office for National Statistics (HSE, 2008) suggests that the mean age of
the UK population will rise from 39.6 years to 42.6 by 2031 and 44 by 2050. It is also
projected that there will be an increase in the size of the population aged less than 45 years
old (+2.7 million), mainly due to the impact of migration, by 2031. However, it is expected
that the increase in the number of over 45 year olds during this period will be far greater (+7.8
million) than that of the less than 45 year olds. This is illustrated in Figure 1, which shows a
significant increase in older age groups over time. Data from the US Bureau of Labour
Statistics (cited in Attwood, 2005), predicted that between 1998 and 2008, the number of
civilian workers aged 55 years and over will increase by 49.9% while the number of 25 to 54
year old workers will increase by only 5.5%. Furthermore, data predicted that the number of
workers between ages 16 and 24 will decrease by 2.8%. A growing number and proportion of
older workers are also predicted for the next 25 years due to the anticipated shortage of
younger workers (Figure 2).
One direct implication of these data is that as older workers retire the flow of new workers
required to replace them will be insufficient. This could lead to labour and skills shortages,
which in turn, could lead to a decrease in output (Silverstein, 2008). Alpass and Mortimer
(2007) reported on New Zealand’s worker population age increases in line with global trends,
and suggested that this reflected a combination of sub-replacement fertility, continuing
longevity, and ageing baby boomers. Based on the expected changes to the population, they
predicted that an older labour force is inevitable with 50% of workers older than 42 years of
age by 2012 and that those aged 65 and over in the workforce will also increase in number.
The authors concluded that such demographic changes have implications for how the nation
will address the impact of an ageing workforce in the future. Furthermore, Terranova (2004)
analysed the personnel records for a City Council Local Authority, and found that 40% of the
workforce was over the age of 46 years, including an even higher proportion in the so-called
blue-collar workforce, i.e. trade and operational workers. Similarly, Letvak (2005) found in a
population of Registered Nurses that ageing of the workforce has added to an already acute
7
shortage of staff, and that this may present serious issues, in terms of increased workloads and
ratings of job dissatisfaction in the workplace.
Figure 1: Actual and projected age distribution, 1981 -2081 (Office for National Statistics, 2008) Figure 2: Employment rates for people aged 50 and over by sex; United Kingdom;
spring 1992 to spring 2004 (Hotopp, 2005).
8
Based on these observations, the indications are that the numbers and proportion of older
workers is growing steadily, and there is a need for employers to be informed about the
implications.
4.2
AGEING AND FUNCTIONAL CAPABILITY
The studies on functional capability indicate age-related changes in functional capabilities of
adults and it is generally agreed that as we age we are not able to perform to the same level as
when we were young (Savinainen et al., 2004; Atwood, 2005; Kowalsi-Trakofler et al., 2005;
Kenny et al., 2008; Welch et al., 2008). In terms of MSD, there are three main
musculoskeletal changes reported in the literature; a reduction in joint mobility, decrease in
muscular strength and the slowing of reaction and movement times. Leaviss et al. (2008)
presents data that indicates the physical work capacity of a 65-year old is around half that of
an average 25-year old worker. McNair and Flynn (2008), suggested that work performance
in most jobs does not decline with age before the late 60s, particularly when the individuals
are healthy, motivated and kept up to date. Welch et al. (2008) found that increasing age was
associated with reduced physical functioning independent of the presence of medical
conditions or MSD. Changes in physical abilities that are encountered with ageing, are
however, influenced by individual genetics and lifestyle, as well as the environment in which
individuals work and live (Buchman et al., 2007; Kenny et al., 2008). Therefore, highly
trained older individuals may, in reality, be able to outperform those many years younger than
them and the type of job that is done may have either a training or wearing effect on physical
capacity.
4.2.1
Physical abilities
Ades and Toth (2005) examined data from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Ageing (a
long-term descriptive study started in 1978, in which participants were subjected to two full
days of medical, physiological and psychological testing every two years) and found
nonlinear age-related decreases in aerobic capacity (measured as volumetric capacity VO2max),
which in fact, increased progressively with each age group (decade). The decline in peak
VO2max was between 3 and 6% for participants between 30 and 40 years of age but greater
than 20% per decade, for those aged 70 years or more. For all age groups, the more physically
active participants had higher peak VO2max measures than less active individuals, but reduced
peak VO2max was observed at all levels of physical activity. Yassierli et al. (2007) investigated
differences in isometric muscle capacity between 24 older (55-65yrs) and 24 younger (18-25
yrs) individuals who performed sustained shoulder abductions and torso extensions to
exhaustion at 30%, 50% and 70% of individual Maximum Voluntary Contraction (MVC).
Compared to the younger group, older individuals exhibited lower muscular strength, longer
endurance time and slower development of local fatigue. Age effects of fatigue were typically
moderated by effort level. Non-linear target relationships between target joint torque and
endurance time were observed, with effects of age differing between shoulder abduction and
torso extension. Overall, the effects of age on endurance and fatigue were more substantial
and more consistent for the shoulder muscle than for the torso muscles and were in all
likelihood, related to differences in muscle fibre type composition. For strength recovery
rates, no significant age or gender effects were found. In summary, the study suggested that
differences in isometric work capacity do exist between older and younger individuals, but
that this effect is influenced by effort level and muscle tested. Punakallio, et al. (2005)
investigated the associations of balance, muscular capacities and age with the risk of slip and
falling in walking experiments with fully equipped fire fighters. Results indicate that old (4356) fire fighters experienced as many slips as young (33-38) fire fighters and over half of each
group experienced slips of over 5cm, which are thought to dramatically increase the risk of an
unrecoverable fall. However, the older fire fighters tended to have longer slip distances than
younger ones, particularly at faster walking speeds.
9
Letvak (2005) compared the prevalence of physical and mental health problems among a
population of older nurses with a norm-based comparison group and found that their group of
subjects had higher levels of physical and mental health than the national norm-scores for the
comparison group. The author attributed the findings to high levels of job satisfaction among
the older workers and concluded that efforts must be made to improve job attributes, which
impact health, especially high physical demands. Shin et al. (2006) assessed the risks for
older people from lifting by examining the trunk kinematics and ground reaction forces
during lifting. Ten older (55-63 years) and ten younger (19-29 years) adults performed lifting
tasks in six different conditions. A lumbar motion monitor was used to measure the
participants’ trunk kinematics and a force platform was used to measure the ground reaction
forces during the lifting motion. The younger participants had higher trunk kinematics values
comparison to their older counterparts, particularly in the transverse plane (axial twisting); the
peak trunk velocity and acceleration values were significantly different between the two age
groups. The peak transverse velocity was 40% lower and peak transverse acceleration was
30% lower in the older participants compared to the younger group. Age did not show a
significant effect on the ground reaction forces or other trunk kinematic variables. The
reduced trunk movements displayed by older participants were more obvious during
asymmetric lifts. The authors suggested that older participants utilized greater twisting in their
lower extremities to achieve the required asymmetric postures, thereby reducing the twisting
demands placed on the lower back. Indeed, older people, generally, have weaker trunk
extensors compared with leg extensors relative to their young counterparts and as such may
prefer to use their legs more than their back because a leg-dominant lifting strategy provides a
more stable posture in motion than a back-dominant lifting strategy.
The work by Savinainen et al. (2004) measured the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular
capacity of ageing employees, in relation to workload, over four follow up investigations
during a period of 16 years (1981, 1985, 1992 and 1997), and reported age-related decline in
physical capacity during the follow-up period. There were also differences in physical
capacity observed between different workload groups, such that employees with low
workload had better physical capacity than those with high workload, especially among
women. Irrespective of age, the results showed that over the follow-up period, improvements
in physical capacity were more common than reductions among employees with low physical
workloads but not for employees with high workload. The differences between high and low
workload groups in physical capacity were larger among women than among men.
4.2.2
Need for recovery
Kiss et al. (2008) examined whether ageing workers had a greater need for recovery in
comparison to their younger counterparts in a cross-sectional questionnaire study, with 1100 participants employed in the public sector. The participants were divided into two age groups;
older workers (aged 45 years and over) and younger workers (aged less than 45 years old). A score higher than 45 (out of 100) was defined as a high need for recovery, while a score of 45
and lower was defined as a low need for recovery. The older worker group had significantly
higher recovery scores compared to the younger workers (Table 1) and there were significantly more participants with a high need for recovery in the older worker group than in
the young worker group. Table 1: Summarised measures of recovery with age (Kiss et al., 2008)
Age (years)
<45
>45
Recovery measures
Score
Mean
(SD)
High need for recovery
Number reporting (N)
(%)
33.6
40.9
242
173
(34.0)
(45.2)
(27.9)
(31.5)
10
Gender, presence of musculoskeletal disorder, work pressure, monotonous work, social
support from superiors, full-time work and unsatisfactory social contacts were all significant
correlates with the need for recovery. When these variables were taken into account in
multivariate analysis, the older workers still showed a significantly higher need for recovery
than the younger workers. This suggests that, although the occupational exposures to work
strain were similar for both age groups, ageing workers had a significantly higher need for
recovery than younger workers.
Gall and Parkhouse (2004) assessed the changes in work ability as a function of age in power
line technicians (PLT). The physical tests used were designed to represent the essential task
elements of power line maintenance identified from a detailed task analysis. Results indicated
that older PLT scored lower in all test variables relative to the younger workers. However, six
of the nine test variables did not demonstrate a statistical difference between the mean scores
of young (>39 years) and old (50+ years) age groups. The older group did score significantly
lower on tests of aerobic capacity, one-handed pull down, and both right and left standard
handgrip tests. Despite these differences the older PLT was able to meet and exceed the
physical requirements necessary to carry out the essential tasks of a power line technician.
Furthermore, there was relatively little decline in musculoskeletal capacity between the young
and old PLT, which would suggest that the heavy manual work associated with this
occupation could be maintaining the physical capacity (aerobic and musculoskeletal) of the
older worker. One possible confounder in the analysis of these results is that participants who
expressed concerns of aggravating or acquiring MSD injury prior to or during the test were
removed from that study and their data was not used during the analysis. Therefore only data
collected from participants without significant MSD problems were used. This reduced the
impact of musculoskeletal injuries when assessing the difference between young and old age
groups.
These observations indicate that musculoskeletal functional capacities decline progressively
with age, but several factors other than chronological age, such as level of physical activity
and the demands of the work, contribute to determine an individual’s decrease in capabilities.
4.3
PREVALENCE/INCIDENCE OF MSD
Various types of MSD have been identified amongst older worker groups varying from
simple aches and pains, discomfort and tingling sensations in the different regions of the body
to overuse injuries and conditions (Palliser, et al., 2005; Pransky et al., 2005; Kaila-Kangas et
al., 2006; Hotopp, 2007; Zuhosky et al., 2007; Landau et al., 2008).
Generally, studies report higher values for older workers than younger workers, and higher
values for those who leave work due to disease compared to those who continue in work till
retirement (Whiting, 2005; Hartman et al., 2003; Holmstrom and Engholm, 2003; Peek-Asa
et al., 2004; Hotopp, 2007; Taimela et al., 2007; Silverstein, 2008). Between the ages of 51
and 62 years, the prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders may increase as much as 15%
among workers, with more pronounced increases occurring in physically demanding
occupations (Ilmarinen, 2002), especially where such occupations do not maintain or improve
strength (Savinainen et al., 2004). It has also been suggested that biological changes related to
the ageing process, for example, degenerative changes to muscles, tendons, ligaments and
joints contribute to the pathogenesis of musculoskeletal disorders (Cassou, et al., 2002).
Furthermore, studies indicate that aged workers suffer more serious but less frequent
workplace injuries than younger workers and that MSD are often the result of a failure to
match the work-based requirements of a task to the functional capacity of workers
(Silverstein, 2008). A chronic overload for the elderly worker caused by a disruption of the
balance between physical workload and physical work capacity can exacerbate the
development of MSD (de Zwart et al., 1999). Thus, older workers in physically demanding
11
occupations are more likely to report musculoskeletal injury complaints (back, neck,
upper/lower extremities) than their younger counterparts.
Taimela et al. (2007) studied the association between self-reported health problems and
sickness absence from work. 1341 participants undertaking construction, service and
maintenance work within a large Finnish corporation completed a questionnaire containing
items regarding lifestyle, anthropometrics, sleep disturbances, work-related stress and fatigue,
depression, pain, disability due to musculoskeletal problems and a prediction of future
workability. The average age of participants was 44 years old (range 19–61 years) and 61% of
respondents were blue-collar workers. The results showed that overall, 31% of respondents
reported health problems, accounting for 61% of the total number of days on sick leave. The
proportions with no sickness absence were lower in young employees than among those at
least 40 years of age and those who reported one health problem had on average almost twice
the number of sickness absence days than those who did not report any health problems. The
prevalence of health problems was found to increase with age, and occupation (blue-collar
workers had increased sickness absence in comparison to white-collar employees). However,
when self-reported health problems and occupational grade were accounted for, age was not
associated with the total number of absence days and older workers were less likely to stay
out of work than their younger counterparts.
Palliser et al. (2005) examined a random sample of New Zealand dentists (N = 413) in order
to identify the severity of musculoskeletal discomfort associated with the profession. In this
study, the annual prevalence of such symptoms (lower back or neck) was 63%, with 49%
experiencing symptoms in the shoulders. In the previous year, 53% (218) of the dentists had
experienced symptoms in up to four body areas. The results indicated that older dentists were
no more likely to suffer musculoskeletal discomfort than younger dentists (the average age of
the sample was 43 years, with 29% of the sample aged between 31 and 40). Welch et al.
(2008) investigated the prevalence of medical and musculoskeletal conditions among working
roofers with 1000 subjects distributed in four age sub-groups 40-44, 45-49, 50-54 and 55-59
years. The results showed that there was a significant burden of MSD among the roofers, such
that 69% of respondents had experienced at least one medical or musculoskeletal condition in
the previous year with 54% reporting at least one MSD. Lower back/sciatica problems were
the single most commonly reported health problem, affecting over a quarter of all respondents
and lung disease led the list of medical conditions. The proportion of subjects with MSD was
roughly equal across all age groups and, of those with MSD as their most serious condition,
79% reported that their MSD was work-related. Almost half of participants whose most
serious condition was an MSD were estimated to be younger than 45 years when the problem
began. Pransky et al., (2005b) found that older workers reported fewer residual symptoms of
injury than younger workers. In general, those over 55 appeared to be more content than those
in the under 55 cohort, reporting not just higher satisfaction with the workers compensation
insurer, but also with their pre-injury employment, the medical care they received for their
injury and the provider’s return to work recommendations. Younger workers had significantly
lower pre-injury job satisfaction, experienced less positive responses from employers, were
less satisfied with the response of the workers’ compensation insurer post injury, and had
more problems on returning to work, perhaps a consequence of less well-established
relationship in the workplace. Peek-Asa et al. (2004) studied the incidence of acute low back
pain among a cohort (n = 2152 reported injuries) of manual handlers. Age, gender, length of
employment and lifting intensity were included as covariates. Results suggest an inverse
association between age and acute lower back injury, in that workers aged between 45 - 54
years had the lowest injury incidence density rate (4.4 per 100 full-time equivalent work
hours (FTE), i.e. 2000 hours per year), compared with workers aged < 44 years, the rate ratio
was 0.78. Workers aged > 54 years had a comparative rate ratio of 0.84 relative to the < 44
years age group. However, this relationship disappears when lifting intensity and length of
employment are considered where data suggests that those over 55 had the same number of
12
injuries as those under 55; however the consequences of injury were greater in terms of lost
work time for older workers.
However, Guo et al. (2004) found that age had a significant association with MSD such that
prevalence tended to increase with age in a nationwide survey of 22,475 members of the
general working population of Taiwan, though those in the youngest group (aged <18 years)
did not have the lowest prevalence for most conditions. In fact, workers aged between 45 and
64 years had the highest prevalence in both genders. This group of workers reported 37%
prevalence of MSD among their participants, for which the lower back and waist were the
most frequently affected areas of the body, followed by the shoulder. The most common
pattern was that the prevalence decreased from the first age group to the second age group (18
– 24 years), then increased with age till the 45-54 year old group or the 55-64 year old group,
after which they decreased again. This pattern was observed for neck, elbow, knee and ankle
in workers of both genders. Eriksen (2003) examined the prevalence of musculoskeletal pain
in Norwegian nurses’ aides and how this varied by demographic factors, number of working
hours per week, and service sector. Participants were 6,485 respondents currently employed
as nurses’ aides and represented by the Norwegian Union of Health and Social Workers. The
results indicated the prevalence of musculoskeletal pain in Norwegian nurses’ aides was very
high, not only for lower back but also for pain in several other regions of the body. The
prevalence of any musculoskeletal pain (in previous 14 days) was 88% (95% confidence
interval (CI) 88-90%), of intense musculoskeletal pain was 51% (CI 50-52%) and of
widespread pain was 27% (CI 25-28%). While prevalence of pain in the extremities increased
continuously with increasing age, prevalence of neck pain and back pain was normally
distributed, with the lowest prevalence rates seen for the youngest and the oldest age groups.
Holmstrom and Engholm (2003) reported age-related prevalence of MSD for nine body
locations among their surveyed group of workers (construction workers, foremen and whitecollar office workers). Amongst construction workers, the prevalence of any MSD increased
from a minimum for the youngest age group to a maximum for those aged 55-59 years
followed by slightly lower prevalence in those aged 60 years and over. In the youngest age
group (<24 years) the prevalence of any MSD was higher for construction workers compared
to foremen and white-collar office workers. Prevalence of hip disorders was highest in the >
60 years age group and prevalence of elbow disorders highest for the 45-49 years age group.
Although in general, prevalence rates of the specific regional symptoms increased with age,
they did not develop in the same manner as the prevalence rate for any MSD. Thus, among
construction workers, the prevalence of shoulder disorders had a linear increase from 8.8% in
the youngest age group up to 41.1% in the 55-59 years age group; the prevalence of hip
disorders initially increased slowly with age across the younger age groups till the 45-49
years age group and thereafter increased sharply across the older age groups. Similar patterns
in the onset of MSD were seen for both foremen and office workers. In general the increase in
prevalence with age was more rapid among the construction workers than among the foremen
and office workers, especially for neck, shoulder and knee disorders. For construction
workers, the location with the highest disorder prevalence rate was the low back for ages
below 45 years and the shoulder region for ages above 45 years. No similar pattern was seen
among foremen or office workers.
These observations confirm the relationship between some adverse working conditions
(repetitive work under time constraints, awkward work, high job demand) and the incidence
of MSD. In general, they indicate that the prevalence of MSD is typically higher among older
workers than younger workers and that complaints about the low back tend to be most
common for older workers. Under unfavourable work conditions however, head–neck–
shoulder symptoms may become more prominent than low back complaints. To prevent the
expected increase in MSD in the aging workforce, preventive measures should be taken at all
stages of a working life.
13
4.4
CONSEQUENCES OF MSD
The studies in this regard identify three main consequences of MSDs: sick leave/absence from
work; severity of injury and functional impairment; and medical costs and early retirement.
The findings in these regards are presented in the following sections.
4.4.1
Sick leave/absence from work
Two types of absences are differentiated – short-term absence (less than a week) and longterm absence (more than a week). According to Barham and Begum (2005) the majority of
absence for both manual and non-manual workers is short-term absence due to minor illness
such as colds, flu and stomach upsets. However, among manual workers, back pain,
musculoskeletal injuries, stress and home and family responsibilities may also result in shortterm absence from work (CIPD, 2008). Long-term absence on the other hand tends to
accounts for 5% of all sickness absence cases, but is responsible for around 40% of all time
lost (Leaker, 2008). The studies generally suggest that older workers typically take more
long-term absences from work due to injury than their younger colleagues.
Peele et al. (2005) for example, found that among workers who had lost workdays, younger
workers lost significantly fewer workdays (median of 30 lost days per worker) than older
workers (median of 51 lost days per workers). The work by Peek-Asa et al. (2004) that
investigated age related patterns for low back injuries causing days away from work, found
that a higher proportion of older workers aged 55 years or more, missed work time because of
their injury and that workers over 45 years had a higher average number of lost workdays per
injury than those younger than 45 years. The average number of days missed per injury was
9.0 for those aged 45-54 and 8.5 for those > 54 years of age, compared to 5.6 for those < 45
years of age. The average number of missed workdays was significantly higher for workers
aged > 55 years than for both groups of younger workers when stratified by length of
employment and lifting intensity. In the overall cohort, there were 1070 low back injuries that
led to missed workdays. For women, those aged 45-54 years were slightly less likely, and
those aged 55 years and over slightly more likely to have missed work injuries than the
youngest age group, though the differences did not reach significance level. Among those
employed for 3 years or less, the average number of missed days increased with age with an
apparent dose-response relationship pattern. Generally, workers in the lowest intensity of
lifting categories had the highest average number of workdays missed per injury. This may be
explained by the healthy worker effect in that those who perform regular high intensity lifts
develop the necessary musculature to maintain heavy lifting jobs or have developed better
lifting techniques. Hartman et al. (2003) analysed a database of 22,807 sick leave claims of
12, 627 farmers between 1994 and 2001 to provide base line data on the diagnosis, occurrence
and duration of sick leave amongst self-employed workers in Holland. Most of the claims
were for musculoskeletal injuries and disorders and the mean cumulative incidence was 10.2
claims per year per 100 farmers. The duration of sick leave depended both on MSD diagnosis
and age category and the slowest recovery from sick leave was seen in farmers with
respiratory diseases and farmers in the oldest category. Lotters and Burdorf (2006) conducted
a prospective cohort study with a one-year follow-up period to determine prognostic factors
for duration of sickness absence specifically due to MSD. 186 workers, who had made a
compensation claim for lost-time at work due to an MSD injury, completed a questionnaire
relating to personal and work-related factors, perceived pain, functional disability, and
general health perceptions during their sickness absence. Multivariate factor analysis revealed
that older age, gender, perceived physical workload, poorer general health, worker's
perception of own ability of return to work, and chronic complaints were associated with
lengthening sickness absence. High pain intensity was found to be a major prognostic factor
for duration of sickness absence, especially in low back pain.
14
Though, the studies above suggest that older workers are more absent from work than their
younger colleagues, others have reported results that suggest sickness absence may not be
higher for older workers (for example Leaker, 2008). From analysis of a more recent set of
labour force survey data (Table 2), Leaker (2008) concluded that younger employees were
more likely to take short-term sickness absence than older employees. Table 2 shows that
around 2.6% of 16-34 year olds were absent due to sickness or injury compared with 2.5% of
35-49 year olds and 2.4% for those aged 50-59/64. The data indicate that employees aged 1624 are 32 % times more likely to be absent than those aged 50-59/64.
Table 2: Summarised previous 12 months sickness absence rates in rates by age
and gender (adapted from Leaker, 2008)
Age
Sickness absence rate
All
Men
Women
16-24
2.6
2.3
3.0
25-34
2.6
2.2
3.1
35-49
2.5
2.1
2.9
50-59/64
2.4
2.2
2.6
60+/65+
All
1.9
2.5
1.5
2.2
2.1
2.9
Furthermore, Peele et al. (2005) found that among workers with medical claims for
occupational injuries, 10.5% reported an occupational MSD, but there was no significant
difference in the distribution of age between all workers who used occupational medical
services and those who used medical services for MSD. 663 workers incurred a total of
44,655 lost days in 2000, of which 304 workers (45.9%) had a total of 20, 800 lost days due
to MSD. There was no significant difference in the distribution of sex and age between all
workers, and workers with MSD with respect to lost workdays. The work by Taimela et al.
(2007) supports this finding. These authors found the proportion of those reporting no
sickness absence was lower in the less than 40 years age groups than in the 40 years or older
age group. Further analysis showed that those who reported one health problem had on
average almost twice the number of sickness absence days and those with two or more health
complaints had 3.4 times the number of absence days than those who did not report any health
problems. When self-reported health problems and occupational grade were accounted for,
age was not associated with the total number of absence days and older workers were less
likely to stay out of work than their younger counterparts. Kaila-Kangas et al. (2006)
investigated the socio-economic distribution of 6166 hospital admissions for severe back
injury by age and gender, and the extent to which the differences in back morbidity were
related to manual work. The results showed that blue-collar (manual) workers had a higher
risk of being hospitalised because of back disorders compared to white-collar employers
(non-manual) in all age groups. The authors suggested age was not a factor but that; people in
physically strenuous occupations had an increased risk of being hospitalised because of back
disorders than those in less strenuous occupations.
4.4.2
Severity of injury and functional impairment
The studies in this regard investigated severity in terms of functional impairment, and longer
recuperation for the same condition.
Layne and Pollack, (2008) reported overall increases in the number of hospitalisations due to
injury as participants’ age, particularly for those in blue-collar jobs or with a low educational
status, in comparison with white-collar work or those with a high educational status.
Hoonakker et al. (2006) reported large increases in the number of deaths among elderly
workers suggesting that this may reflect a greater likelihood of serious complications and
15
poorer prognosis after injury. The work by Peek-Asa et al. (2004) found that workers,
employed as materials handlers in a home improvement retail company, over the age of 55
had longer periods of missed work following a low-back injury than the younger counterparts.
Those in the lowest group for lifting intensity reported the longest time off, which suggested
increased severity of injury as a consequence of poor lifting technique or underdeveloped,
task-specific musculature. The incidence rates for all injuries, and injuries resulting in lost
days from work, generally decreased as the length of employment increased. Among workers
employed less than 3 years, those over 45 had lower incidence rates than those 45 and
younger. However, among workers with 4 or more years of experience, individuals over the
age of 55 had the highest incidence rate for both injuries and injuries resulting in lost days.
The relationship between age and length of employment may reflect the combination of a
self-selecting cohort and age effect in which healthy older workers have developed protective
factors over time.
Gardner et al. (2008) identified limited ability to work, decreased work productivity and
functional limitation (as measured on the Functional Status Scale) as the most commonly
reported function impairments due to upper extremity (UE) symptoms for 1,108 workers
employed in a new job. Results showed increased risk of functional impairment for older age,
physical work exposures and work-related psychosocial factors. The authors opined from the
results that the risk factors for UE symptoms might be different than the risk factors for
functional impairment due to UE symptoms. Welch et al. (2008) found for the studied
population of construction workers that increased age was significantly associated with
decreased physical functioning independent of the presence of medical condition or MSD.
Those with medical and MSD conditions had more work limitations than those without, such
that 14% of their respondents with a medical condition indicated a limitation in three or more
work activities, compared to only 4% of respondents with no condition. The authors
concluded from their study that the presence of a health condition, physical functioning,
missed work and work limitations were intertwined.
Lipscomb et al. (2008) investigated upper extremity musculoskeletal problems among women
employed in poultry processing and identified difficulty to maintain work speed or quality
due to symptoms reported; age, being overweight and job insecurity at baseline were
associated with incident disorders. Data were collected from a cohort of 291 women through
interviews and physical examinations conducted at 6-month intervals over 3 years. An index
of cumulative exposure based on departmental rankings and work history, was the primary
exposure variable. The authors concluded from the results that the pattern of risk was
consistent with onset of early musculoskeletal problems among women new to the industry
followed by a later increase with continued exposure.
4.4.3
Medical costs and early retirement
In these regards, the work by Hoonakker et al. (2006) examined the effects of age and
working conditions on self-reported health over a 12-year period using data from a previous
study. Results showed that self-reported health deteriorated significantly in the period 19922004 (χ2 2283, df=16, p<0.001), and there was a considerable increase in the number of
symptoms, especially musculoskeletal complaints. Respondents who were still working in
2004 had significantly more lack of energy and complained more about fatigue than those
who retired in 2004; the differences in respect of frequency and severity of complaints were
not significant. In 2004, respondents reported less physical effort, lower work pressure and
less autonomy than in 1992. Respondents who reported high physical effort in 1992 and who
were still working in 2004 had worse general health in 2004 than employees who experienced
low physical effort (χ2 11.6, df=4, p<0.05). The respondents with high physical effort in 1992
did not report a decrease in energy in 2004, but did complain significantly more often about
the frequency and the discomfort such work caused than respondents who reported low
physical effort. Respondents with a high amount of repetitive movements in their jobs in 1992
16
had worse general health in 2004 than those who reported a low amount of repetitive
movements (χ2 20.9, df = 4, p<0.0001). Respondents working under high time pressure in
1992 did not have worse general health in 2004 than those working under low time pressure
in 1992 (χ2 1.6, df = 4, p<0.81). Respondents with a low level of autonomy in 1992 had worse
general health in 2004 than those who reported a high level of autonomy (χ2 48.7, df =4,
p<0.001). Results from the study were considered to show the long-term adverse impact of
working conditions on health.
Pransky et al. (2005a) identified health-related early retirement as an adverse outcome unique
to older workers and that the retirement theory literature, while extensive, provided limited
direct evidence about the factors that influence a decision to leave the workforce. None of the
investigations had focused on work injuries or other acute trauma events. The study was
intended to develop new information on the frequency and characteristics of workers whose
occupational injuries changed their plans regarding early retirement. The working hypothesis
was that plans to retire early after a work injury would be associated with several pre- and
post injury factors as well as certain post-injury outcomes. In the population of workers
studied, 11% reported intent to retire early due to their work injury. Though demographically
similar to other older workers who had been injured on the job, those who planned early
retirement differed significantly with respect to many pre- and post injury factors. Prior to
injury, they reported more health problems and more difficulties at work, including lower job
satisfaction. In addition to experiencing more severe injuries, they appeared to return to a
work environment that was less supportive, where changes were less available or effective.
Intent to pursue early retirement because of the work injury was strongly associated with
other adverse outcomes. These included negative trends in quality of work life, more
difficulty keeping up with required tasks, and more health related work limitations. Even
though there was little difference in the length of work absence, between the two groups,
almost twice as many of those with changed retirement decisions had not returned to
performing their usual job tasks. This was considered a likely consequence of persistent postinjury work and health problems. The lack of self-efficacy demonstrated in the reduced
capacity to perform job tasks also may lead to a desire to withdraw from the workforce.
Gleeson and Gallagher (2005) studied to determine the incidence rates, trends and medical
causes of ill-health retirement (IHR) among different occupational classes, based on data from
14,702 permanent employees of a health board who were divided into six occupational
classes. The occupational classes were compared for incidence rates of IHR, age at IHR, years
of service and medical causes of IHR. The overall incidence rate of IHR was 2.9 per 1000
employees per annum and the common causes of IHR were MSD (38%) mental illness,
(17%), circulatory disorders (12%) and neoplasia (8%). With regard to age and years of
service, they found that IHR peaked at the time that coincided with enhancement of pension
entitlements. The authors concluded from the results that IHR was common among healthcare
workers, but the structure of the pension scheme had a greater influence on the timing of IHR
than occupational class or age of worker.
4.4.4
Summary
Musculoskeletal disorders are a problem amongst both young (<25 years of age) and elderly
workers (>55 years of age), but tend to be more severe for elderly workers than younger
workers, in terms of longer recuperation, lost work time and costs, for the same condition.
However, a higher probability of sickness absence has been reported for younger workers in
terms of higher total counts of recorded absence days, and a decreased number of one-day
(short-term) absences has been reported for older aged workers.
17
4.5
THE QUALITY OF THE EVIDENCE FOR AGE AS RISK FACTOR
Various systematic reviews have evaluated the strength of evidence concerning risk factors
for MSD (for example D’Souza et al., 2005; Lorusso et al., 2007; Jensen, 2008a,b). These
identify prospective cohort studies as the preferred design, followed by a case-control study
and then by cross-sectional studies. Important drawbacks associated with the cross-sectional
design methodology, include, poor assessment of the physical exposures to risk factors and an
inability to make causal inferences from the results. In these regards, Tables 3 and 4, presents
summarised the data obtained from the literature concerning the risk factors for MSD
symptoms. The information is for eight prospective/longitudinal and fourteen crosssectional/case control studies, which reported significant associations different risk factors
(including age) after adjustment for confounding variables.
Paul et al. (2005) investigated the factors that influence mine-related injuries with specific
reference to age and human behaviour aspects using a case control study design. 175 cases
and 200 controls were involved as participants and a multi-item questionnaire was applied for
data collection. The cases were mineworkers who had sustained a prior mine-related injury,
while controls were mineworkers with no history of a prior mine-related injury. Bivariate
analysis (estimating the crude odds of injury from an examination of the association between
age and injury) generally showed that those aged 46 years or more were 3.48 times more
likely to be injured than the youngest age group (<29 yrs), multivariate analysis was used to
refine the model (taking into account the influence of other covariates) and showed equal
likelihood of injury for the older workers and the youngest age group of workers. The
bivariate analyses also showed increased likelihood of injury for the most experienced
workers (>23 yrs) compared to the least experienced group (<5 yrs), and that irrespective of
their age, workers who perceived their work environment as being more hazardous were more
likely to be injured than those who did not. The multivariate analysis showed reduced
likelihood of injury for high safety performance and negative affinity. The authors opined
from the results that older (>49 yrs) and more experienced (>23 yrs) workers are more likely
to become injured compared to younger groups due not necessarily to ageing, but to
overconfidence, and consequent underestimation of potential work dangers.
18
Table 3: Risk factors for work-related MSD/injuries in populations of workers including aged workers
Reference/population
Region of injury/definition
Risk factor
Hoonakker et al. 2006
General health
Medical symptoms
Job characteristics
Hartman et al. 2003
Incidence of claims
Age (oldest group)
OR 1.6
Data base analysis of claims
Breslin and Smith 2005
General work injuries
Age (< 35 yrs)
Occupation (low demand)
OR 1.59, CI 1.24-2.04
OR 2.67, CI 2.05-3.49
Cross-sectional, population study, archival
data
Peek-Asa et al. 2004
Low-back injury (acute)
Male/ Older age
RR 0.73, CI 0.59-0.92
Prospective (5 year follow-up, 1989-1994)
Questionnaire survey, bivariate analysis
Lin et al. 2008
Fatal injuries
Male / young age
χ2 test, p<0.001
Analysis of 1890 case reports 1996-1999
Wang et al. 2007
Neck/shoulder UL pain
Age (30-39yrs)
OR 0.5, CI 0.27-0.94
Cross-sectional, questionnaire,
face-to-face interviews
Paul et al. 2005
General injuries
Safety performance (high)
Negative affinity (high)
OR 0.71, CI 0.02-0.24
OR 9.34, CI 2.20-39.73
Case-control study, questionnaire survey
General aged worker population, age
based on graduation year 1957, 1964,
1975, 1992/93, 2004
Farming population, in 3 age groups
(<35, 36-45, >45 yrs)
General workers, in 4 age groups
(15-19, 20-24, 25-35, 35-64 yrs)
Manual handlers in home depot, in 3
age groups (≥55yrs, 45-54, <45yrs)
General workers, in 5 age groups
(15-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54, >55yrs)
Garment industry workers in 4 age
groups (<30, 30-39, 40-49, >49 yrs)
Coal mine workers in 3 age groups
(<29, 29-46, >46 yrs)
Measure of risk
High physical workload
High repetitive movement
High time pressure
Low autonomy
χ2 – Chi-squared coefficient/analysis, CI – 95% Confidence Interval, OR – Odds Ratio,
19
χ2 11.6, df=4, p<0.05
χ2 20.9, df=4, p<0.0001
χ2 1.6, df=4, p<0.81
χ2 48.7, df=4, p<0.001
Design/Exposure evaluation
Prospective (12 year follow-up), questionnaire
survey, bivariate Pearson χ2 test analysis
Table 3: Risk factors for work-related MSD/injuries in populations of workers including aged workers (continued)
Reference/population
Region of injury/definition
Risk factor
Measure of risk
Design/Exposure evaluation
Holmstrom and Engholm 2003
Upper back symptoms
Older age >55yrs
Insulators v foremen
Older age >35yrs
Roofers v foremen
Older age >30yrs
Roofers v foremen
Older age >45yrs
Floorers v foremen
Older age >50yrs
Scaffolders v foremen
Older age >55yrs
Crane operators v foremen
Older age >50yrs
Scaffolders v foremen
Older age >45yrs
Scaffolders v foremen
Older age >50yrs
Scaffolders v foremen
RR 2.11, CI 1.88-2.38
RR 2.70, CI 2.09-3.48
RR 2.32, CI 2.17-2.48
RR 5.01, CI 3.83-6.54
RR 2.33, CI 2.01-2.71
RR 2.42, CI 1.72-3.40
RR 2.00, CI 1.87-2.14
RR 4.54, CI 3.95-5.23
RR 2.53, CI 2.28-2.81
RR 2.48, CI 1.89-3.25
RR 8.40, CI 7.64-9.24
RR 4.50, CI 3.74-5.42
RR 8.69, CI 8.00-9.44
RR 8.35, CI 6.62-10.53
RR 9.17, CI 8.22-10.23
RR 6.53, CI 5.07-8.41
RR 2.18, CI 1.99-2.39
RR 9.10, CI 7.18-11.52
Cross-sectional questionnaire survey study
Older age
Gender
Older age
Gender
Gender
Years in present job
Older age
Gender
OR 1.02, CI 1.00-1.05
OR 2.36, CI 1.48-3.77
OR 1.06, CI 1.03-1.08
OR, 3.76 CI 2.19-6.43
OR 1.88, CI 1.11-3.17
OR 1.03, CI 1.03-1.06
OR 1.03, CI 1.01-1.06
OR 2.74, CI 1.58-4.74
Cross-sectional, self-filled questionnaire survey
Primary care centre archival data
Age (> 40)
OR 6.30, CI 2.54-45.62
Longitudinal (six month intervals, 3 year total)
Multivariate analysis
Construction industry workers in 9 age
Groups (<25, 25-29, 30-34, 35-39, 4044, 45-49, 50-54, 55-59, >59 yrs)
Lower back symptoms
Hip symptoms
Knee symptoms
Ankle/foot symptoms
Neck symptoms
Shoulder symptoms
Elbow symptoms
Wrist/hand symptoms
Antonopoulou et al. 2007
General worker population in 3 age
groups (20-39, 40-64, >64 yrs)
Low back pain
Neck pain
Shoulder pain
Knee pain
Lipscomb et al. 2008
Poultry workers, in 3 age groups (<30,
30-40, >40 yrs)
Upper extremity incidence
of disorders
OR – Odds Ratio, RR - Relative Risk, CI – 95% Confidence Interval
20
Table 3: Risk factors for work-related MSD/injuries in populations of workers including aged workers (continued)
Reference/population
Region of injury/definition
Risk factor
Measure of risk
Design/Exposure evaluation
Alexopoulos et al. 2006
Low back pain
Mid age (31-44yrs)
Manual handling
High need for recovery
Low perceived general health
Gender (females)
Manual handling
Low perceived general health
Older age (31+yrs)
Low perceived general health
OR 1.53, CI 1.04-2.25
OR 1.55, CI 1.02-2.36
OR 2.11, CI 1.49-2.98
OR 1.76, CI 1.25-2.48
OR 3.82, CI 1.93-7.58
OR 1.99, CI 1.18-3.35
OR 2.52, CI 1.64-3.87
OR 1.94, CI 1.21-3.11
OR 3.63, CI 2.55-5.16
Cross-sectional, self-filled questionnaire survey
Shipyard employee population in 3 age
groups (<31, 31-44, >44 yrs)
Hand/wrist pain
Shoulder/neck pain
Werner et al. 2005a
Upper extremity tendonitis
Older age (40 +)
BMI (30 +)
SNP complaint at base line
Shoulder posture rating (high)
Baseline discomfort (worst)
OR 1.76, CI 1.04-2.98
OR 1.93, CI 1.12-3.34
OR 1.84, CI 1.03-3.29
OR 1.92, CI 1.14-3.24
OR 1.21, CI 1.06-1.38
Prospective cohort study (5.4 years follow-up)
Ghasemkhani et al. 2006
Neck pain
Shoulder pain
Elbow pain
Educational status (low)
Educational status (low)
Educational status (low)
Cigarette smoking
Educational status (low)
Educational status (low)
Educational status (low)
OR 0.19, CI 0.04-0.88
OR 2.05, CI 1.10-3.81
OR 6.44, CI 1.89-21.91
OR 2.78, CI 1.07-7.23
OR 2.36, CI 1.38-4.03
OR 5.01, CI 2.38-10.55
OR 3.84, CI 2.29-6.42
Cross-sectional, self-filled questionnaire survey
Age (older)
Repetition (time constrained)
Awkward work
Older age
Repetitive work
OR 2.00, CI 1.60-2.60
OR 1.30, CI 1.00-1.70
OR 1.30, CI 1.10-1.70
OR 0.60, CI 0.40-0.90
OR 0.50, CI 0.30-0.70
Prospective study (5 year follow-up 1990-1995),
questionnaire survey, clinical examination
Industrial and clerical workers, in 2 age
groups (≤ 40 yrs, >40 yrs)
Automobile assembly line workers in 3
age groups (<25, 35-30, >30 yrs)
Low back pain
Wrist/hands pain
Feet pain
Cassou et al. 2002
Genera worker population
Chronic neck/shoulder pain:
Incidence
Disappearance
OR – Odds Ratio, CI – 95% Confidence Interval
21
Table 3: Risk factors for work-related MSD/injuries in populations of workers including aged workers (continued)
Reference/population
Region of injury/definition
Risk factor
Measure of risk
Design/Exposure evaluation
Conway et al. 2008
Physical health - MSD
Age (older)
Commitment (high)
Commitment x Age
OR 1.58, CI 1.22-2.04
OR1.51, CI 1.09-2.21
OR 2.61, CI 1,75-3.90
Cross-sectional, questionnaire survey, loglinear
regression, multi-variate analysis, Rothman Index
Gardner et al. 2008
Upper limb symptoms Prevalence, moderate
severity, incidence
Age
Previous injury (baseline)
Job demands
OR 1.20, CI 1.00-1.40
OR 4.72, CI 3.00-7.45
OR 1.76, CI 1.17-2.66
Longitudinal (6 month follow-up), questionnaire
Survey, univariate, multi-variate analysis, Chisquare test
Nurses, RN/Assistants, in 2 age groups
(< 45, 45 + yrs)
Industrial workers, aged 18 yrs and
over
OR – Odds Ratio, CI – 95% Confidence Interval
22
Table 4: Risk factors for post MSD injury outcomes in populations of industrial workers
Reference/population
Injury (inj) outcomes
Risk factor
Measure of risk
Study design/Exposure evaluation
Pransky et al. 2005a
Early retirement
Pre-injury job dissatisfaction
Dissatisfaction with medicare
OR 1.16, CI 0.97-1.38
OR 1.70, CI 1.04-2.77
Cross-sectional, questionnaire survey
4 Focus groups, 28 persons, multi-variate
Pransky et al. 2005b
Pre-injury (Pinj) poor health
Pinj job dissatisfaction
Severity rating
Negative employer response
Job related problems
Lack of co-worker support
Economic problems
Impact on quality of life
Age (older)
Age (younger)
Age (older)
Age (younger)
Age (younger)
Age (younger)
Age (younger)
Age (younger)
t –3.53, p<0.0001
t 6.70, p<0.0001
χ2 13.6, p<0.004
t 5.70, p<0.0001
t 3.70, p<0.01
χ2 12.6, p<0.0001
t 5.10, p<0.0001
t 3.30, p<0.01
Cross-sectional, questionnaire survey
4 Focus groups, 28 participants, uni-variate
Arndt et al. 2005
Disability
Older age (>50yrs)
Heavy work occupations
Length of employment >15yr
OR 2.09, CI 1.76-2.46
OR 2.37, CI 2.09-2.69
OR2.46, CI 2.27-2.67
Prospective cohort study (6-yrs follow-up),
archival data analysis
Alexopoulos et al. 2006
HCU - Low back pain
Chronic complaint
Mid age (31-44yrs)
Heavy job (blue collar)
Strenuous shoulder movements
Co-morbidity
Chronic complaint
Co-morbidity
Mid age (31-44yrs)
Strenuous shoulder movements
High job demand
Chronic complaint
OR 1.55, CI 1.02-2.36
OR 3.51, CI 1.19-10.34
OR 9.45, CI 2.20-40.51
OR 0.17, CI 0.06-0.50
OR 5.27, CI 1.09-25.39
OR 2.85, CI 1.52-5.35
OR 2.78, CI 1.17-6.60
OR 0.29, CI 0.10-0.83
OR 3.87, CI 1.50-9.99
OR 0.41, CI 0.17-0.96
OR 3.42, CI 1.38-8.46
Cross-sectional, self-filled questionnaire survey
General older workers (≥55yrs old)
General worker in 2 age groups
(≥55yrs old, <55yrs young)
Construction workers
Shipyard employees in 3 age groups
(<31, 31-44, >44 yrs)
Hand/wrist pain
Shoulder/neck pain
SL -
Low back pain
Hand/wrist pain
Shoulder/neck pain
HCU – Health care use, SL – Sick leave, χ2 – Chi-squared coefficient, t – student’s t test coefficient, OR – Odds Ratio, CI – 95% Confidence Interval,
23
Table 4: Risk factors for post MSD injury outcomes in populations of industrial workers (continued)
Reference/population
Injury (inj) outcomes
Risk factor
Measure of risk
Study design/Exposure evaluation
Peele et al. 2005
Wage compensation
Days lost due to illness
Medical care cost
Age (older)
Age (younger)
χ2, p=0.0190
χ2, p=0.0025
Cross-sectional, χ2, Wilcoxon,
Werner et al. 2005b
Upper extremity tendonitis
Visit medical department
Older age (40 +)
Diagnosis of diabetes
Diagnosis of elbow tendonitis
Diagnosis of CTS
HR 0.96, CI 0.92-0.99
HR 3.20, CI 1.20-8.30
HR 2.80, CI 1.30-6.00
HR 3.80, CI 1.80-8.10
Longitudinal cohort study (5one years follow-up),
stepwise Cox regression analysis
Manufacturing industry workers in 2
age groups (<45, ≥ 45 yrs; N=3123)
Auto assembly workers, in 2 age
groups (≤ 40 yrs, >40 yrs)
HR – Hazard Ratio, χ2 – Chi-squared coefficient/analysis, CI – 95% Confidence Interval
24
Peek-Asa et al. (2004) examined age-specific incidence rates of acute low-back injury overall
and within a stratum of gender, job-specific lifting intensity and length of employment in a
prospective study design, using a large cohort (n = 2152) of manual handlers and a multi-variate
analysis of the data. The central hypothesis was that age-specific rates of acute low-back injury
would be similar when stratified by the exploratory variables. The results showed that workers
aged 55 years and over had a rate ratio of 0.84 (CI 0.69-0.92) compared to those aged less than
45 years and a trend of decreasing rates with increasing age, which was more apparent for men
than for women. Workers aged 45-54 years were 0.69 times likely to sustain an injury causing
days away from work (CI 0.53-0.88), and those aged 55 years and above were slightly but not
significantly less likely to have missed workday injuries than workers younger than 45 years of
age (RR 0.93, CI 0.70-1.23). For all age groups, the rate of injury decreased with length of
employment and increased with increasing lifting intensity. The authors concluded from the
results that workers over the age of 55 years were no more likely to suffer a low back injury at
work than younger workers (< 45 years of age), irrespective of the lifting intensity in the work
and their length of employment. Werner et al. (2005a) investigated the incidence rate and risk
factors of upper extremity tendonitis (UET) with a longitudinal study design. 501 active
workers were involved as participants and they were followed over 5.4 years. The factors found
to have the highest predictive value for identifying persons likely to develop UET in the future
included older age (> 40 years), high BMI (> 30), complaint at base line, history of injury and
job with high effort requirement. The authors concluded that older, heavier workers who also
had a history of discomfort or injury were at the highest risk for developing new injury.
Cassou, et al. (2002) prospectively analysed the effects of age and occupational factors on both
the incidence and the disappearance of chronic neck and shoulder pain (CNSP) over a five year
follow up period. Questionnaire data were taken from a longitudinal study involving a large
representative sample of French workers participating in the Health Work and Aging
Investigation Study (ESTEV). During the initial stage of investigation (1990), 21,378
participants (57% were men), who were born in 1953, 1948, 1943, or 1938, were randomly
selected, 18,695 (87.4%) of which were interviewed again in 1995. In the population as a
whole, 16,950 (90.6%) participants were still at work in 1995, however, the proportion of
participants born in 1938 that was available for follow up in 1995 was lower for both sexes, as
more participants from this cohort had retired. The prevalence rate was lower among the
younger respondents (men aged 47 and 52 years and women aged 42 and 47 years old) than
among older respondents (aged 57, 62, 52 and 57 respectively). In addition, the disappearance
rate was found to decrease with age, especially among women. The incidence rate of CNSP was
not statistically different when the social class of respondents was considered (executives 6.7%;
clerks 7.8%; blue collar workers 7.5%; others 8.2%). Among male respondents, repetitive work
under time constraints (before 1990), awkward work (in 1990), and high job demand (in 1990)
were the occupational factors identified as risk factors for CNSP, independent of age. Among
women, two occupational factors were related to incidence rate; repetitive work under time
constraints in 1990 and before, and high job demand in 1990. The majority of workers with
chronic pain were still at work at the end of the study period and coping with their disability.
Arndt et al. (2005) prospectively investigated the patterns of the nature and extent of
occupational disability with 14,474 male workers from the construction industry. The
participants were aged 25-64 years and they were grouped into six age categories (25-39, 40-44,
45-49, 50-54, 55-59, and 60-64 years). At the end of the follow up period (6 years) 8493 men
were still working. The results showed that MSD were the leading reason for occupational
disability in all age categories; the crude disability rate was 2049 per 100,000 person years, and
risk of disability strongly increased with age. Though the proportion of MSD among the cases
of disability strongly increased with age, some other causes like mental disorders, injury and
poisoning were important contributors to occupational disability among the young age groups.
25
When the cohort was stratified by age, a widening gap in all-cause disability with increasing age
and duration of employment was revealed between construction workers (who were exposed to
high physical work demands) and the general workforce (white and blue collar workers with
generally lower work demands). The associations of age and duration of employment with
disability caused by MSD appeared to be stronger than those for all-cause disability, though the
association between age and MSD disability was more U-shaped, with the highest relative risk
among the youngest and older age groups.
Furthermore, Pransky et al. (2005b) studied to provide detailed information on occupational
injury circumstances and outcomes in workers aged 55 and over, compared with a similar
cohort of younger workers. The contribution of age to outcomes after a work injury was
evaluated using a multi-step process. First, age-related differences in various factors related to
outcomes were analysed and bivariate analyses were employed to assess the relationship of age
to outcomes. Thirdly, age and other factors were entered into multivariate models of selected
outcomes in order to observe the effect of age when other variables were also considered. In this
way it was hoped that the separate role of age in outcomes after a work injury could be clarified.
The results showed no evidence of significant age-related differences for the majority of the
outcomes examined, including change in ability to do one’s job compared to before the injury,
current injury-related pain, use of pain medications or concerns about future job capacity or job
retention as a consequence of the injury. Age by itself was unrelated to all but one outcome, i.e.,
financial problems attributed to the injury; a positive effect of age was shown, which indicated,
that being older was protective. The findings were considered remarkable as older workers
reported more frequent pre-existing illnesses, and had more severe injuries. But the types of
jobs and industries, physical job demands, rates of prior work-related injury, injury onset and
body part involved were similar for both groups and had little association with outcomes in
multivariate analysis. The authors suggested that workplace psychosocial issues were key to the
relative advantage of older workers. Indeed, younger workers had significantly lower pre-injury
job satisfaction, experienced less positive responses from employers, were less satisfied with the
response of the workers’ compensation insurer post injury, and had more problems on returning
to work (perhaps a consequence of less well-established relationships in the workplace).
The work by Hoonaker et al. (2006) examined the relationship between job characteristics in
1992 and self-reported health in 2004 in an older population of workers (individuals who
graduated from high school in 1957) using data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS).
The respondents were followed over time until they were on the brink of retirement in 2004.
Between the study periods, the results showed that working conditions of the respondents
improved significantly, and general health of the respondents deteriorated with a number of
health complaints increasing dramatically. Prior to this time however, they identified that in
general, working conditions had deteriorated between the last decades. Respondents with high
physical workload, high repetitive work, low autonomy and high pressure in 1992 had more
significantly worse general health and more medical symptoms in 2004 than those who scored
low on these job characteristics. General health of respondents who retired between 1992 and
2004 was significantly worse than those who were still working in 2004; 300 of the 5462
respondents recruited in 1992 retired because of health reasons between 1992 and 2004. When
the results for those who retired for health reasons were excluded, overall health and the number
of symptoms reported by the respondents who retired for other reasons and respondents who
still worked in 2004 were largely the same. The authors opined from the results that, even
though retirement meant they were no longer exposed to the adverse working conditions, those
who retired early were no more in better or worse health than those who were still working and
continuously exposed. The results were however, not clear on what caused the health reasons
for retirement of respondents, i.e., whether they were work-related or not. Breslin and Smith
(2005) examined age-related differences in work injuries, using a cross-sectional study design,
with an emphasis on adjusting for the potential confounding effects of job characteristics. The
26
results showed that, adolescents and young adult workers, especially males, showed elevated
rates of work injury compared to adults who were aged 35 years and over. The injured young
workers had proportionally more acute, traumatic injuries, and fewer musculoskeletal injuries
than older workers. Multivariate analysis indicated that differences in the types of jobs young
workers held played an important role in their elevated risk for injury. For men this was such
that age related differences were reduced when job characteristics were controlled for, though
even in the fully adjusted model, young males 15-34 years continued to exhibit a moderately
elevated risk of injury. The age differences in injury rates for women were less marked than
those for males.
Landau et al., (2008) carried out a cross-sectional workload-strain-symptoms study on 256
workers and workstations in a company of the automotive industry, to identify the independent
role played by age. They applied the recursive partitioning creating regression trees statistical
analysis procedure to identify features or combinations of features exhibiting a strong
association with the target variables and influences attributable to worker age. The analysis, like
cluster analysis, makes it possible to segment a sample into sub-groups which are homogeneous,
but also different from each other. In contrast to most cluster analysis procedures, it is also
possible to identify the variables or combination of variables causing segmentation. The
distribution for presence of musculoskeletal symptoms derived from the study revealed no
correlations with worker age. Indeed, athough multivariate analysis showed a strong association
of age with workload situation, such that more unfavourable high workload jobs (based on
expert rating) were occupied by younger workers and low workload jobs occupied by older
workers, the association with physical health symptoms did not have any primary explanatory
value. The authors opined from the results, that potential age-related performance deficits in the
older workers were more or less completely compensated for by allocation to jobs less likely to
cause them strain.
Based on the observations from the literature, the evidence for ageing/older age as an
independent risk factor for MSD is inconclusive or weak; most of the studies reviewed,
particularly those that applied prospective study designs, reported no age effect or higher
relative risk for work factors and psychosocial factors than age.
27
5
DISCUSSION This work was undertaken to examine more closely the role of age, specifically older age, as a
risk factor for MSD injury in the workplace. The objective was to enable evidence based
assessment of the impact an increase in the number of older workers would have on duty holder
responsibilities and HSE’s responsibilities for provision of guidance. The literature reviewed
showed that MSDs are a problem amongst both young and older workers in many workplaces
but tend to be more severe for elderly workers than younger workers.
5.1
CURRENT THINKING
Shearn (2005) reported predictions of significant demographic change over forthcoming
decades such that, older workers will constitute a greater proportion of the available workforce.
Benjamin and Wilson (2005) showed that many negative beliefs about ageing and work, which
hitherto had tended to preclude older workers from the workplace, were baseless and the work
by Harris and Higgins (2006) identified that older workers are a valuable resource for employers
as they bring to work a number of real benefits:
• Increased employee reliability, commitment, loyalty and dedication, decreased turnover and
absenteeism. Older workers have a commitment to doing quality work; can be counted on in
a crisis and have a solid performance record.
• Diversity of expertise, knowledge and skills. Older workers bring a whole wealth of
knowledge and experience as well as a strong work ethic.
• Older workers can share their expertise with younger colleagues through mentoring and
leadership opportunities and provide inspirational models for other members of staff.
• Older workers tend to set an example of hard work for their younger co-workers.
• The relationship between work capacity and demands is complex and the literature mixed.
However, older workers can often compensate for losses of work related functional capacity
with strategies and skills gained through experience.
Harris and Higgins (2005) also identified a reasonable quantity of information relating to the
retention of older workers and some useful interventions. However, while many employers did
show increased appreciation of the value of older workers, only a few actually implemented
measures, or increased their intake of older workers. This they attributed to insufficient
information about laws governing workplace bias and equal opportunity, fear of being open to
discrimination charges and sparse evidence base for comprehensive programs and policies are
often cited.
The current work found evidence that older workers are already a significant component of the
workplace as there is a shortage of younger people to replace them, should they retire. It also
identified case studies of organisational efforts to implement age friendly policies in the
workplace (for example, Moyers and Coleman, 2004; Martin, 2005; Buckle et al., 2008; Landau
28
et al., 2008). These observations support the previous observations of a general changed attitude
towards ageing and increasing willingness of employers to retain /take on older workers.
5.2
SUSCEPTIBILITY TO MSD
Benjamin and Wilson (2005) discuss the concept of ‘determinants of health’ and concluded that
lifestyle, education, socio-economic status, genetics, stress, exercise, nutrition and healthcare
needs have an equal if not greater importance, than age as determinants of individual health.
The current work identified that human functional capacity declines progressively with age, and
that several factors other than chronological age, such as level of physical activity and the
demands of the work, tend to contribute more to susceptibility for MSD during work (Pransky
et al., 2005a&b; Werner et al., 2005; Ghasemkhani et al. 2006; Antonopoulou et al., 2007; Lin
et al., 2008). These studies all reported lower levels of risk for increasing age compared with
other risk factors or they reported higher risk levels for younger workers compared to older
workers. Also, studies such as Hartman et al., 2003, Roquelaure et al., 2004, Pransky et al.,
2005 and Hotopp, 2007, suggested that irrespective of their age, workers employed in
physically demanding occupations, where they are exposed to challenging tasks are more likely
to report underlying health problems than those in sedentary occupations. Furthermore, older
workers are often forced to work closer to their individual maximum capacity than younger
workers. Typically, in most industries the demands of work do not change with the passage of
time (Savinainen et al., 2004; Kenny et al., 2008). Thus, though a higher prevalence of MSD is
often reported for older workers compared to younger workers, this may reflect the fact that
many older workers are working closer to their physical capacity. This observation suggests the
propensity for injury is related more closely to the difference between the demands of work and
the worker’s physical work capacity (or work ability) than their age. Physical work capacity
(and/or work ability) rather than age should be the criteria used to determine if an individual is
capable of performing a specific job and the likely level of risk of MSD it presents.
It can be concluded that age is not an independent risk factor for MSD but that older workers are
more susceptible to work-related MSD because of a decrease in functional capacity.
5.3
IMPLICATIONS OF AGEING WORKFORCE
According to Alpass and Mortimer (2007), the main challenge an ageing workforce brings, is
the need to deal with demographic change from a rapidly growing economically viable
population to a slower growing and rapidly ageing population. These authors noted that the
main working-age population (15-64 year old group) will probably contract after 2020, and
opined that the effect of the trend on the workforce depends partly upon whether people decide
to continue working into old age or whether they choose to retire. They identified a number of
issues that employers would need to consider as a consequence of increased labour participation
of older people, such as impact on working patterns, use of technology and corporate attitudes
towards older workers.
Silverstein, (2008) identified the need for employers to encourage older employees to stay
longer in work as they age by taking steps that support their productive capacities and minimise
their vulnerabilities. Specifically, the author recommended measures to protect these groups of
workers, promote their health and build their competencies. Arndt et al. (2005) identified two
policy implications of ageing workforces from their study to establish a detailed pattern of the
nature and extent of occupational disability among construction workers: first, need to sustain
the health of workers generally and older workers particularly and secondly need to develop
prevention measures (including job alternatives in sufficient numbers). These both require
increased understanding of the needs of older workers. Furthermore, Yassierli et al. (2007)
29
identified the need to consider individual factors and workers physical capabilities when
defining procedures for assigning tasks. Letvak (2005) identified the need to improve job
attributes, which impact health, especially high job demands as well as the need for schemes
that provide the workforce with increased support.
Based on the observations from the literature the implications of an ageing workforce for health
and safety in the workplace are as follows.
Future requirements
• Greater interest in the requirements of older workers: These need to be understood so that
work, work equipment and work environment may be designed accordingly.
• Employers will need to be able to anticipate the physical and cognitive capabilities of their
workers. There will be an increased challenge, i.e., to find the adjustments needed at work
due to deterioration of health.
Workplace design and accommodation
• The strategies applied for provision/adoption of workplace will need to be such that they
build upon workers strengths and protect against their vulnerabilities, i.e.:
o The physical work environments support the needs and capabilities of older
workers
o The general working environments are age friendly and preserve the capacity of
employees to function safely and effectively as they age.
30
6
CONCLUSIONS Attitudes towards ageing and work are changing. More employers regard older workers as a
valuable asset and they are willing to keep current employees on for longer periods past the
usual retirement age. However, while many do now appreciate the value of older workers, only
a few workplaces actually implement measures, to support and increase their retention of older
workers.
Age is not an independent risk factor for work related MSDs. Older workers are more
susceptible to work-related MSDs than younger workers because of decreased functional
capacity. The propensity for injury is related more to the difference between the demands of
work and the worker’s physical work capacity (or work ability) than to age.
An older workforce has implications for the health and safety responsibilities of employers.
These include providing additional support for worker requirements, changing the workplace
attitudes towards ageing, providing a positive knowledge base, adjusting the workplace design
and accommodations and improving worker/employer relationships (co-operation).
31
32
7
RECOMMENDATIONS It is recommended that awareness campaigns are implemented to disseminate the benefits of
ageing workers in the workplace and raise awareness of those elements of the workplace that
are not suited to their needs. The expectation is that this will change the attitudes of employers
and employees towards ageing and aged workers.
33
34
8
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41
Published by the Health and Safety Executive
05/10
Health and Safety
Executive
Ageing and work-related musculoskeletal disorders
A review of the recent literature
This work was commissioned to provide a review
of the recent literature concerning ageing and
occupational MSD, and to carry out scoping
activities to inform the formulation of future policy or
guidance and provision of advice. However, as the
findings were developed, the scoping element was
dropped at the customer’s request.
Attitudes towards ageing and work are changing;
more employers regard older workers as a valuable
asset and are willing to keep current employees
on for longer periods past the usual retirement
age. Older workers are more susceptible to workrelated MSD than younger workers because of
decreased functional capacity; the propensity for
injury is related more to the difference between the
demands of work and the worker’s physical work
capacity (or work ability) rather than their age. An
older workforce has implications for the health
and safety responsibilities of employers. These
include providing additional support for worker
requirements, changing the workplace attitudes
towards ageing, providing a positive knowledge
base, adjusting the workplace design and
accommodations and improving worker/employer
relationships (co-operation).
This report and the work it describes were funded
by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Its
contents, including any opinions and/or conclusions
expressed, are those of the authors alone and do
not necessarily reflect HSE policy.
RR796
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