Work ability score of solvent-exposed workers

  • Heidi Furu
  • Markku Sainio
  • Hanna-Kaisa Hyvärinen
  • Ari Kaukiainen
Original Article



Occupational chronic solvent encephalopathy (CSE), characterized by neurocognitive dysfunction, often leads to early retirement. However, only the more severe cases are diagnosed with CSE, and little is known about the work ability of solvent-exposed workers in general. The aim was to study memory and concentration symptoms, work ability and the effect of both solvent-related and non-occupational factors on work ability, in an actively working solvent-exposed population.


A questionnaire on exposure and health was sent to 3640 workers in four solvent-exposed fields, i.e. painters and floor-layers, boat builders, printers, and metal workers. The total number of responses was 1730. We determined the work ability score (WAS), a single question item of the Work Ability Index, and studied solvent exposure, demographic factors, Euroquest memory and concentration symptoms, chronic diseases, and employment status using univariate and multivariate analyses. The findings were compared to those of a corresponding national blue-collar reference population (n = 221), and a small cohort of workers with CSE (n = 18).


The proportion of workers with memory and concentration symptoms was significantly associated with solvent exposure. The WAS of solvent-exposed workers was lower than that of the national blue-collar reference group, and the difference was significant in the oldest age group (those aged over 60). Solvent-exposed worker’s WAS were higher than those of workers diagnosed with CSE. The WAS were lowest among painters and floor-layers, followed by metal workers and printers, and highest among boat builders. The strongest explanatory factors for poor work ability were the number of chronic diseases, age and employment status. Solvent exposure was a weak independent risk factor for reduced WAS, comparable to a level of high alcohol consumption.


Even if memory and concentration symptoms were associated with higher solvent exposure, the effect of solvents on self-experienced work ability was relatively weak. This in line with the improved occupational hygiene and reduced solvent exposure levels in industrialized countries, thus the effect may be stronger in high-level exposure environments. As a single question, WAS is easily included, applicable, and recommendable in occupational screening questionnaires.


Solvents Work ability Work ability score Chronic solvent encephalopathy Occupational disease 


Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in the studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Finnish Institute of Occupational HealthHelsinkiFinland
  2. 2.DoctagonHelsinkiFinland

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