Work ability index

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[edit] Introduction

The work ability index (WAI) is a tool for measuring the work ability of those in employment. The WAI was developed in the 1980s by Finnish occupational clinicians, and was published in German by the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health [Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsschutz und Arbeitsmedizin] in 2001. The tool is used to measure the work ability of employees, and on the basis of the results obtained, to develop measures to preserve and promote employee work ability.

[edit] Facts

The WAI comprises a questionnaire covering seven WAI “dimensions” (WAI items) and a total of ten questions plus a list of [medical] diagnoses. The questionnaire is a self-assessment tool completed either by the subjects themselves or with the involvement of a third party, e.g. by a company doctor in the course of an occupational health check. Employees give information about their current state of health and estimate their work ability and effectiveness. Answers are weighted using a formula and a score is calculated.

Under the WAI, an employee’s work ability is rated as very high if he or she herself rates it as such, believes that he or she can currently do their job very well and will still be able to do so in two years’ time, and on his or her own assessment works with commitment, confidence and a sense of fulfilment. The calculation also takes account of illnesses diagnosed by a physician and sick days taken over the last twelve months.

In an occupational health setting, the WAI is a preventive tool that can provide a starting point for targeted health management measures. The WAI can also be used in vocational rehabilitation. With the agreement of employee representatives and the employer, it can also be used by occupational epidemiologists e.g. in comparative cross-sectional and longitudinal surveys in company departments. Depending on the users of the questionnaire, regional, national or supra-national comparison, in the scientific context for example, is also possible.

Critics point out that the WAI focuses exclusively on people and behaviour and makes no reference to working conditions or stresses. Indeed, the WAI should not be used as the only resource for assessing risks. Rather, it is a preventive tool which can add a subjective component to the information provided by other tools and procedures.


The seven dimensions of the WAI:


WAI 1 Current work ability in comparison with your lifetime best

Assuming that your best ever work ability has a value of 10 points: How many points would you give your current work ability?


WAI 2 Work ability in relation to the demands of the job

How do you rate your current work ability with respect to the physical demands of your job? How do you rate your work ability with respect to the mental demands of your job?


WAI 3 Number of current diseases diagnosed by a clinician


(long version = 50, short version = 13 diseases/disease groups)


WAI 4 Estimated work impairment due to disease

Is an illness or injury currently a hindrance to your job?


WAI 5 Sick leave over the last year

(number of days)


WAI 6 Own prognosis of work ability two years from now

Do you believe that, given the current condition of your health, you will be able to do your current job two years from now?


WAI 7 Mental resources

Have you recently been able to enjoy your daily tasks? Have you recently been active and alert? Have you recent felt confident about the future?

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