High-demand jobs: age-related diversity in work ability?

Appl Ergon. 2006 Jul;37(4):429-40. doi: 10.1016/j.apergo.2006.04.007. Epub 2006 Jun 9.


High-demand jobs include 'specific' job demands that are not preventable with state of the art ergonomics knowledge and may overburden the bodily capacities, safety or health of workers. An interesting question is whether the age of the worker is an important factor in explanations of diversity in work ability in the context of high-demand jobs. In this paper, the work ability of ageing workers is addressed according to aspects of diversity in specific job demands and the research methods that are needed to shed light upon the relevant associated questions. From the international literature, a body of evidence was elicited concerning rates of chronological ageing in distinct bodily systems and functions. Intra-age-cohort differences in capacities and work ability, however, require (not yet existing) valid estimates of functional age or biological age indices for the specific populations of workers in high-demand jobs. Many studies have drawn on the highly demanding work of fire-fighters, ambulance workers, police officers, medical specialists, pilots/astronauts and submarine officers. Specific job demands in these jobs can be physical, mental or psychosocial in origin but may cause combined task-level loadings. Therefore, the assessment of single demands probably will not reveal enough relevant information about work ability in high-demand jobs and there will be a call for more integrated measures. Existing studies have used a variety of methodologies to address parts of the issue: task analyses for quantifying physical work demands, observations of psychological and physiological parameters, measures of psychosocial work demands and health complaints. Specific details about the work ability of ageing workers in high-demand jobs are scarce. In general, specific demands are more likely to overtax the capacities of older workers than those of younger workers in high-demand jobs, implying greater repercussions for health, although these effects also vary considerably within age cohorts. Functional tests for job-specific work ability should be developed for high-demand jobs in order to monitor individual functional ageing and to facilitate well-timed intervention. It is concluded that a shift from 'no-diversity thinking' to 'diversity thinking' is needed in the context of deciding about the work ability of ageing workers in high-demand jobs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Ergonomics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Health*
  • Psychology / trends
  • Public Health*
  • Stress, Psychological / prevention & control
  • Work Capacity Evaluation*
  • Work Schedule Tolerance / physiology*
  • Workforce