Employees above 50 year of age (seniors) constitute a growing part of the society’s potential working force. It is important to the society as well as to individuals to preserve the work ability as long as possible. This project aims at elucidating factors that determine work ability and participation in occupations with physically demanding tasks, with emphasis on seniors. This age group shows a high occurrence of musculo-skeletal disorders that are a major cause of complaints, sickness absence and early retirement.

The construction and health care sectors are assumed by most employees and health-care providers to be physically demanding with mechanical risk factors for musculo¬skeletal disorders. A high level of mechanical risk factors at work, combined with a reduced capability of the individual e.g. for seniors, may increase the risk for musculoskeletal disorders and reduce the work ability. However, there is insufficient precise knowledge on what aspects of the mechanical work demands that may be harmful, and furthermore on the effects of recovery after physically demanding work.

Main objectives

The primary objective of this study is to generate knowledge that may be used to improve the mechanical work exposures at work, not only making it possible for the seniors to stay longer in working life, but also to prevent musculoskeletal disorders for all age groups.

Secondary (specific) objectives/research questions:
1. How physically demanding is health care work?
2. How physically demanding is construction work?
3. To what extent do mechanical demands of construction and health care work include known risk factors for musculoskeletal disorders?
4. Does the employees’ physical capability (aerobic power, endurance and muscle strength) match the mechanical demands of work in these groups?
5. To what extent will mechanical work demands, related to the employees’ physical capabilities (i.e. physical work ability), influence the risk for musculoskeletal disorders and sickness absence?
6. What is the dose-response relationship between mechanical work load and the risk of for musculoskeletal disorders and sickness absence?”

This study will objectively describe the mechanical work-related risk factors, the level of activity and recovery during leisure time, and prospectively analyze the risk for musculoskeletal disorders and related sickness absence. Knowledge that will be generated may be used to improve the mechanical work exposures at work, not only making it possible for the seniors to stay longer in working life, but also to prevent musculoskeletal disorders for all age groups.


An important finding was that the applied methods are much more accurate than the questionnaires used in previous studies. Specifically, we examined the health effects of general activities (e.g. standing or sitting work), body positions (e.g. arms raised, back bent forward), heavy lifting and work intensity in the building and construction, and health and care sectors, but also for electricians and hairdressers.

Some of the examined loads were associated with musculoskeletal disorders (e.g. sitting work showed a preventive effect for back pain in healthcare workers, standing work in the construction industry led to more leg disorders).

Furthermore, it was found that older workers in these industries generally worked at a higher load, relative to their capacity.

Project group

Project leader: Bo Veiersted

Project group: Morten Wærsted, Markus Koch, Lars-Kristian Lunde, Suzanne Merkus

The project has been carried out in collaboration with several external partners, including the National Research Centre for the Working Environment, Copenhagen, Denmark , Centre for Musculoskeletal Research (CMR), Gävle, Sweden, Department of work-related musculoskeletal disorders and Ergonomics, Karolinska Institute (KI), Stockholm, Sweden, Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Lund University.

The project resulted in one PhD-thesis: “Physical demands at work: objectively measured exposure and musculoskeletal pain in construction- and healthcare workers.” Faculty of Medicine, University of Oslo.