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Physically hard work shortens working life

A new published study from the NFA shows that high demands on physical work are a significant risk factor for a shortened working life and increased years of sick leave and unemployment. We give here a brief summary of the most important points.


Growing retirement age

Rising life expectancy and declining birth rates are changing the age distribution in Europe towards a growing elderly population above the statutory retirement age. In Denmark, the statutory retirement age is expected to increase from 65 in 2019 to 72 in 2050. However, this increase is not without challenges in occupations with physical hard work. For example. muscle strength falls from the age of 40 up to 2% per. years, making physical work more difficult as age progresses. Therefore, the primary focus of the study is to examine how physically hard work affects life expectancy. This expresses the number of years a person is expected to be at work until retirement from the labor market.

The survey includes statistics from 1.6 million. Danish employees aged 30 to 65 years. These were divided into 317 occupational groups and scored based on eight ergonomic exposures to physical exertion. An increasing score thus indicates increasing demands for physical work. A detailed description of the business groups and scoring system can be found here. The male occupations in the group with high exposure include construction and general manual work such as carpentry, masonry, painting and plumbing. The female occupations with high demands on physical labor are related to cleaning work and production.

Hard work = shortened working life

The results show that people with high demands on physical work have a significantly lower working life than those with low demands on physical work, with the largest differences among women. At the age of 30, women with high exposure to physical work can expect 3.1 years less in the labor market, 11 months more in sick leave and 16 months in unemployment than women with low exposure. For 30-year-old men, the corresponding results were 2 years, 12 months, and 8 months, respectively.

The results highlight how urgent it is to tackle problems related to physical work requirements with regard to, for example, an increasing statutory retirement age. The study can therefore be an important political tool when choosing the statutory retirement age for occupations with varying physical requirements.

Published by:
Pedersen J, Schultz BB, Madsen IEH, et al
High physical work demands and working life expectancy in Denmark
Occupational and Environmental Medicine Published Online First: 12 May 2020. doi: 10.1136/oemed-2019-106359