OBJECTIVE: To establish a detailed pattern of the nature and extent of illnesses and injuries among construction workers in Ireland which cause temporary absence from work, and to identify diseases and disabilities which lead to premature retirement from the industry on health grounds. METHODS: The population base for the study consisted of construction workers who were members of the Construction Federation operatives pension and sick pay scheme. Records of sickness absence since 1981, stored on computer disks, and records of early retirement on health grounds since 1972, stored on microfiche film, were examined. Pertinent data were extracted and transferred to a database; after cleaning and the exclusion of unvalidated data, records of 28 792 absences and 3098 records of early retirement were available for analysis. Data were analysed with Access 97 and Epi Info. RESULTS: Over the period of the study the mean annual absences were 7.8/100 workers. Three quarters of absences were among younger workers; however, the rate of absence increased with age, as did the mean duration of absence. Injury was the most frequent reason for absence, followed by infectious disease, then musculoskeletal disorders. The mean annual rate of early retirement on health grounds was 5.3/1000 workers. The median age at retirement was 58 years. Cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal disorders each accounted for nearly one third of the conditions leading to permanent disability on the grounds of which early retirement was granted. During the period of the study, over 677 000 working days were lost due to sickness absence, and over 24 000 potential years of working lives were lost due to early retirement on health grounds. CONCLUSIONS: The study has shown patterns of sickness absence and early retirement on health grounds in the Irish construction industry which will contribute to the further development of health promotion strategies for construction workers.
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