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Physical Jobs Linked to More Sick Leave, Earlier Retirement

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People with physically demanding jobs take more sick leave. They also have higher unemployment rates and shorter work lives, a new Danish study finds.

"This study showed that high physical work demands are a marked risk factor for a shortened expected working life and increased years of sickness absence and unemployment," study co-author Lars Andersen and colleagues wrote. Andersen is with the National Research Center for the Working Environment in Copenhagen.

For the study, the researchers looked at people ages 30, 40, and 50 in Denmark who had a job as of November 2013. The investigators examined their periods of sick leave, unemployment, and disability pension payments until 2017.

More men than women had physically demanding jobs, such as carpentry, masonry, painting, plumbing, cleaning, and manufacturing.

Men with such jobs were an average of nearly three years younger than men in physically undemanding jobs, while women in physically demanding jobs were about 10 months older than those in physically undemanding jobs.

For both men and women, physically demanding jobs were strongly associated with shorter work-life (years worked until retirement), and more sick leave and unemployment, compared with physically undemanding jobs.

For men age 30, working life would be expected to last almost 32 years for those with physically demanding jobs and nearly 34 years for those with physically undemanding jobs. Among women, the figures were just over 29.5 years and nearly 33 years, respectively, according to the researchers.

Overall, a 30-year-old woman with a physically demanding job would be expected to have three fewer years of working life, 11 more months of sick leave, and 16 more months of unemployment than a 30-year-old woman with a physically undemanding job, the findings showed.

The equivalent figures for a 30-year-old man with a physically demanding job would be two fewer years of working life, 12 additional months of sick leave, and 8 more months of unemployment, according to the study.

The findings were published online May 12 in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The study can't prove a definite cause-and-effect relationship. Still, "the findings highlight the urgency of addressing problems related to physical work demands with regard to, for example, an increasing statutory retirement age," the authors wrote in a journal news release.

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Schedule23 Sep 2023