Background: The working environment plays an important role in public health. This study investigates the risk for long-term sickness absence (LTSA) from the combination of factors related to physical work demands.
Methods: Employees (n = 22 740) of the general population (the Danish Work Environment & Health study 2012) were followed for two years in the Danish Register for Evaluation of Marginalisation. Using Cox regression analyses we determined the risk of LTSA from four factors; (i) physical work demands, (ii) physical exertion during work, (iii) fatigue after work and (iv) work-limiting pain.
Results: During follow-up 10.2% experienced LTSA. Each of the four factors increased the risk of LTSA with hazard ratios (HR) ranging from 1.30 to 1.57. Scoring high on one (30.3% of the respondents), two (24.4%), three (19.9%) and all four factors (9.2%) gradually increased the risk of LTSA (HR's of 1.39 [95% CI 1.16-1.66], 1.66 [95% CI 1.39-1.99], 1.90 [95% CI 1.57-2.29] and 3.02 [95% CI 2.47-3.68], respectively). Risk estimates remained robust in stratified analyses of age, sex and socioeconomic position. Population attributable fractions were high across all subgroups; 39% (general population), 36% (younger workers), 45% (older workers), 36% (men), 41% (women), 30% (higher socioeconomic position) and 45% (lower socioeconomic position).
Conclusion: The risk of LTSA gradually increased with number of factors related to high physical work demands, underlining the importance of targeting combined factors in risk assessment and preventive interventions.