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To what extent are work disability and exit from work preventable? Completing the Nordic Work Disability Database and utilizing it to look at occupation-specific prevention potential and working life expectancy

Maintaining high participation in the workforce is increasingly important in order to secure the financial basis of a welfare state. Thus, reducing sickness absence and increasing work participation are key political objectives, however, research is needed to reduce existing knowledge gaps with regard to transitions between work, sickness absence, and temporary and permanent withdrawal from work life. This Nordic collaborative project will examine occupation-specific differences in health and work participation, and generate a Nordic Work Disability Database.

The project is led by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH). In addition to STAMI, the participating project partners are The National Research Center for the Working Environment (NFA) in Denmark and the Centre for Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Stockholm County Council and the Unit of Occupational Medicine, Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. The project is a continuation of Nordic Occupational Register – A tool for estimation of the potential of workplace and population level interventions.

The project aims to identify differences in work participation between occupations and industrial sectors, over time and across the four participating countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden). Work participation is operationalised by utilising nationwide registry data on sickness absence, disability pension, work assessment allowance, unemployment benefits, and old age pension. There will be a particular focus on the two largest patient groups with respect to diagnoses of sickness absence and disability pension, namely individuals with musculoskeletal diseases and mental disorders. Furthermore, the project will assess the occupation-specific potential of workplace interventions targeted at physical and psychosocial work exposures, on the reduction of sickness absence, withdrawal from working life and healthy working life expectancy. The Norwegian study population contains almost 4 million individuals registered as living in Norway between 2000 and 2010.

The knowledge generated in the project will form the basis of a Nordic Work Disability Database (NWDD). NWDD will contain information on work-related exposures, disabilities and sickness absence and working life expectancy, according to occupation and industrial sector. The aim is that NWDD will be a knowledge resource for policy makers as well as professionals and experts working in occupational health services.

Occupation-specific knowledge about sickness absence, working life expectancy and prevalence of work exposures is crucial to assess the preventive potential for targeted interventions in the workplace. The knowledge generated in this project may provide an important basis for quantifying the preventive potential as well as identifying working conditions that need to be prioritized and groups with excess risk of SA that can benefit the most from workplace interventions.

The project receives funding from The Nordic Council of Ministers

Project leader: Ingrid Sivesind Mehlum