In Finland, the proportion of 45- to 64-year-old people in the work force is expected to increase from 31.1 to 40.1% between 1980 and 2000. A multidisciplinary study was carried out to test the factors of work, health, work ability, functional capacity, and perceived strain as criteria for determining new concepts for retirement age. The first phase of the project comprised cross-sectional studies in which the age of the 6257 working subjects ranged from 45 to 58 years. The second phase covered a four-year follow-up of these same subjects. The main results of the 15 various studies are given in separate articles. Recommendations for improving the work and promoting the work ability of the aging worker have been made on the basis of the findings of the project.
This study evaluated perceived changes in stress symptoms and the relationship of these changes to work during an 11-year period.
The sample consisted of municipal workers in different occupational groups who had remained in the same occupation during 1981-1992 (N = 924, 350 men and 574 women, 14.8% of the original sample in 1981). The age range was 44-51 years in 1981. Changes in the physical and mental stress symptoms and changes at work were analyzed with the aid of a structured questionnaire in 1981 and 1992.
The questionnaire surveys revealed that stress symptoms were markedly increased, especially aches and pain in the upper and lower limbs, but also respiratory and cardiovascular symptoms. Avoidance reactions, including sense of apathy in general and desire to stay at home in the morning, were the most increased psychological symptoms. The women experienced a greater increase in symptoms than the men. Changes in symptoms were associated with changes at work in that, in general, the more symptoms had increased, the more the work had also been changed.
The results suggest that the impact of work on the functional capacity and symptoms of workers might start even earlier than the age of 45 years. This finding is of crucial importance when preventive measures and policies are being planned in regard to stress and physical and mental load at work. Results on the relationship of changes in cardiorespiratory symptoms and work tentatively suggest that, by developing job content and social support, even a positive impact on physical symptoms is possible.
Eighty-eight job titles were analyzed with the "ergonomic job analysis procedure" [Arbeitswissenschaftliche Erhebungsverfahren zur Tätigkeits-analyse abbreviated (AET) in German]. The objective was to classify the wide range of municipal jobs into homogeneous groups according to job demand and to provide better possibilities to study the relationships between work and health among the aging municipal working population. Altogether 216 items were classified. First, a hierarchical cluster analysis was made, and a dendrogram of the analyzed job titles was drawn. Second, a profile analysis was done in which the single items were grouped into 39 sum items, and a graphic profile was drawn. Finally, the stress factors were listed and drawn in ranking order. The cluster analysis formed 13 groups. Groups exposed to the highest stress factor level were kitchen supervisors, dentists, and physicians. More than 10 stress factors (greater than 50% of the maximum) were found in nursing, administration, installation, transport, and technical supervision.
The objective of this follow-up study of aging workers was to determine changes in the work, life-style, health, functional capacity, and stress symptoms of Finnish municipal employees from 1981 to 1992. In addition, factors that predict improvement or decline in the ability to work were studied. With the use of this information, attempts were made to produce practical measures to decrease the work-related health risks of elderly workers and increase factors promoting work ability. Along with the stress-strain model applied in the study, the reference frame of the World Health Organization (WHO) was used. The WHO model emphasizes the interaction between work, life-style, aging, and health. Work, life-style, health, work ability, and stress symptoms were studied through the use of comprehensive questionnaire surveys in 1981, 1985 and 1992. Initially, all the subjects (N = 6257) were employed in municipal occupations. During the follow-up, the data were supplemented by information on disability to work and mortality. The changes in work, life-style, health, work ability, and stress symptoms were examined among employees who worked in the same job (N = 924) during the entire follow-up period.
Perceived changes in mental and physical work demands and work content were evaluated longitudinally.
Municipal workers (N = 924) in the same job from 1981 (mean age 47 years) to 1992 (mean age 58 years) in the work content groups of mental, mixed mental and physical, or physical work responded to a questionnaire in both 1981 and 1992.
The workers reported that the physical and mental demands of their jobs had mainly increased from 1981 to 1992, especially muscular work and use of knowledge. In 1992 the women still perceived higher physical demands than the men but felt they had greater possibilities to develop. The use of knowledge had increased, especially among the women, and was on the same level for both genders. The perception of changes differed in the 3 work content groups.
Perceived work demands increase with age. Although the 3 work content categories differ somewhat as to perceived changes over time, in general, the changes may be more connected to personal factors than work factors. Older persons seem to work at a relatively higher capacity than younger workers, and this higher work load may be a risk factor for early work disability. Work demands and stress factors should therefore be surveyed and balanced according to the capacity of the aging worker. On the other hand, workers' perception of possibilities to develop seem to increase with age. The differences between men and women may especially diminish at a later age.
Cardiorespiratory and musculoskeletal stress and strain during work were investigated for 129 men and women aged 45 to 58 years. In physical work the women had more physical demands (34% of the workshift) than the men (21%) although the men had more peak loads (heavy and very heavy) than the women. Cardiorespiratory strain varied between 63 and 131 beats.min-1, which equaled a metabolic rate of 68 to 223 W.min-2. The relative cardiorespiratory strain of the older subjects was the same as that of the younger subjects. Among the physical workers with good cardiorespiratory capacity the absolute and relative strain was 10 and 18% lower, respectively, than among those with poor or moderate capacity. Poor work postures were the most common in physical work (17% of the workshift) and more common among the women (22%) than among the men (15%). It seems that work is often physically heavy for elderly women because of their decreased physical work capacity.
This report is a summary of the main findings of 15 studies comprising a multidisciplinary research project. Recommendations are also made on the basis of the findings, and they emphasize the following points: (i) work demands should change with age, (ii) work should be designed for unhealthy people, (iii) work ability should be promoted, (iv) work ability should be regularly monitored, (v) special attention to stress reactions is needed, (vi) knowledge of aging is needed, and (vii) action programs are needed.