Musculoskeletal disorders have a profound impact on individual health, sickness absence and early retirement, particularly in physically demanding occupations. Demographics are changing in the developed countries, towards increasing proportions of senior workers. These senior workers may have particular difficulties coping with physically demanding occupations while maintaining good health.
Previous studies investigating the relationship between physical work demands and musculoskeletal disorders are mainly based on self-reported exposures and lack a prospective design. The aim of this paper is to describe the background and methods and discuss challenges for a field study examining physical demands in construction and health care work and their prospective associations with musculoskeletal disorders, work ability and sickness absence.
Methods and design
This protocol describes a prospective cohort study on 1200 construction and health care workers. Participants will answer a baseline questionnaire concerning musculoskeletal complaints, general health, psychosocial and organizational factors at work, work demands, work ability and physical activity during leisure. A shorter questionnaire will be answered every 6th months for a total of two years, together with continuous sickness absence monitoring during this period. Analysis will prospectively consider associations between self-reported physical demands and musculoskeletal disorders, work ability and sickness absence. To obtain objective data on physical exposures, technical measurements will be collected from two subgroups of N = 300 (Group A) and N = 160 (Group B) during work and leisure. Both group A and B will be given a physical health examination, be tested for physical capacity and physical activity will be measured for four days. Additionally, muscle activity, ground reaction force, body positions and physical activity will be examined during one workday for Group B. Analysis of associations between objectively measured exposure data and the outcomes described above will be done separately for these subpopulations.
The field study will at baseline produce objectively measured data on physical demands in the construction and health care occupations. In combination with clinical measurements and questionnaire data during follow-up, this will provide a solid foundation to prospectively investigate relationships between physical demands at work and development of musculoskeletal disorders, work ability and sickness absence.