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workers, building, architect

NORA Manufacturing Sector Strategic Goals

R018929 - 021H: Aging, Musculoskeletal Disorders and Work Capacity (8929)

Start Date: 9/1/2008
End Date: 8/31/2013

Principal Investigator (PI)
Name: Linda Frederick
Organization: NIOSH
Sub-Unit: OEP
Funded By: NIOSH

Primary Goals Addressed
3.0 7.0

Secondary Goal Addressed


Attributed to Manufacturing


Project Description

Short Summary

Research that leads to clearer understanding of workplace and non-workplace factors that predicts morbidity and loss of work capacity in the aging workforce serve public health interests at the individual and social levels. Slowing normal age-related changes in MSH would enhance individual quality of life while extending productive employment and reducing the burden on publicly maintained medical costs. The ultimate objective of this research is to inform workplace interventions and policy initiatives that help retain older workers, limit premature or involuntary abandonment of the workplace due to poor MSH, and increase the positive health effects of well-designed work.


With the aging of the American workforce, the largest percentage increase in employment is occurring in the 55-64 year old age group. This research is designed to assess effects of workplace biomechanical, psychosocial, organizational and non-workplace factors on normal age related changes in musculoskeletal function and performance. There are particular emphases on the role of gender and on identifying subpopulations that may be at increased risk of exceeding age expected changes in musculoskeletal function and performance. We use the term musculoskeletal health (MSH) to define the complex of physiological performance and effective function.

An estimated 1200-1400 workers representing both genders, and meeting a broad age demographic, will be studied in Connecticut manufacturing facilities. Their evaluation will include questionnaires that survey individual, organizational and psychosocial factors; direct measures of physical performance, strength and muscle power; and instrumented and observed exposure measurement. There are cross-sectional and longitudinal components employed in a mixed design that accommodates the relatively short study period, and the longer time span of many health outcomes relevant to the musculoskeletal system. A key aspect of this study is the influence of the so-called "healthy worker survivor effect", the extent to which musculoskeletal symptoms and function influence withdrawal from the workforce. This is addressed through several imputative models. We will also estimate the interactive effect of risk factors (extrinsic and intrinsic) on the distribution of subjective and objective findings and undertake the compilation of broader indices of MSH.


Substantive Aims:

1. Evaluate the effects of workplace exposure (including physical, psychosocial and organizational factors) on the normal, age-related changes in the health of the musculoskeletal system (MSH).

2. Evaluate the effects of work-family balance, non-work factors, and personal factors (such as health attitudes and leisure exercise) on the normal, age-related changes in MSH.

3. Evaluate how workplace exposures and non-work influences differ between men and women engaged in similar employment, and how these gender-specific patterns of risk differentially affect the normal, age-related MSH changes in men and in women.

4. Identify factors that best predict higher or lower than normal rates of disability with aging.

Methodological and Exploratory Aims:

1. Use techniques for identifying, contacting, and resurveying dropouts to assess and control the estimation biases due to 'survivor effect'.

2. Use both longitudinal and cross-sectional data on individuals (and cross-sectional analyses of contiguous age groups) to: a. Evaluate and further develop a workability index (i.e. estimate of likely future effective employment) b. Evaluate effects of exposures and aging on MSH that have a longer latency period than the period of the study and generate hypotheses for longer longitudinal studies c. Explore cohort effects that could cause the cross-sectional analyses to over-estimate the true effects of study variables.

3. Use an integrated battery of established survey instruments (and simplified instruments), combined with direct, instrumented measures of biomechanical load and of physical function and physical performance, to better define workplace exposures, non-workplace exposures and their effects on normal, age-related changes in MSH.