Purpose The study examined the performance of the Work Ability Index in predicting rehabilitation measures and disability pensions, sickness absence and unemployment benefits, and work participation among a sample of workers previously receiving sickness absence benefits. Methods Workers aged 40 to 54 years who received sickness absence benefits in 2012 completed the Work Ability Index in 2013. Outcomes were extracted from administrative data records. Results Data for 2149 participants were included (mean age: 47.8 years; 54.4% women). Mean follow-up was 19 months. Work Ability Index scores were poor (7-27 points) in 21% of the participants, and moderate (28-36 points) in 38.4%. In all, 224 rehabilitation measures and 35 disability pensions were approved. Fully adjusted analyses showed increased risk of rehabilitation measures in workers with poor (HR 4.55; 95% CI 3.14-6.60) and moderate scores (HR 2.08; 95% CI 1.43-3.01) compared to workers with good or excellent scores (37-49 points). The risk of a disability pension increased significantly for workers with poor scores (HR 7.78; 95% CI 2.59-23.35). In addition, poor scores were prospectively associated with a longer duration of sickness absence and employment benefits, and fewer employment days and less income from regular employment. Conclusions The Work Ability Index is a potential tool for following up workers who already have an increased risk of permanent work disability due to previous long-term sickness absence.
Keywords: Cohort study; Needs assessment; Occupational health; Pensions; Rehabilitation.