Counteracting demographic challenges in industrial blue-collar work: Development of a structured approach for the identification of age-critical workplaces and their adaption by physical assistance

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


The demographic changes in OECD countries lead to an on average older population. Accordingly, the effective retirement age is raised in affected countries. In connection with this development, the average working life will also be extended. Companies therefore face the challenge of providing age-appropriate working conditions for their employees.
Scientific studies have shown employees in the older age category have higher work absenteeism rates and have lower productivity, mainly due to musculoskeletal disorders, especially in physical demanding work. These problems often result from physical overstrain in the workplace, caused by different developments in work demands and worker resources. While the physical workloads at the workplace remain constant, the physical performance prerequisites decrease with increasing age. One reason for physical overstrain is that work requirements are not adapted to age. Therefore, the group of older employees in physically demanding occupations is of particular relevance in this context.
Studies conducted in this area focus on the automotive industry and on traditional solutions to reduce stress through mechanisation, automation and changes in the work organisation. In this context, the perceived strain, which is particularly relevant in connection with changing skills, has usually been neglected. In connection with the progressive technical development of physical assistance systems, new possibilities arise to improve this component.
The aim of this thesis is to develop a process model that allows the identification of age-critical work stress and its reduction by physical assistance systems, while specifically taking into account the strain component. Based on a field study in heavy machinery manufacturing and the retail sector, such a process model is developed and validated in a prototypical application. From the synthesis of the results of empirical investigations, industry-relevant requirements for the age-differentiated assessment of workplaces were derived. In a first step, a methodology and tool for ergonomic workplace assessment was developed, which takes into account average ability changes while ageing and enables an age-differentiated ergonomic evaluation. Subsequently, a classification logic and assessment methodology for industry-relevant assistance systems for stress and strain reduction was developed, which supports a systematic ergonomic improvement process. Finally, a method for the structured implementation and testing of different assistance systems in industry was developed, which takes into account not only the objective stress reduction but also the subjective strain of the employees.
The presented results complement the existing literature with age-specific stress factors and a methodology for age-differentiated assessment of physical work activities as well as with a methodology for the identification and implementation of appropriate physical assistance systems to reduce strain.
The developed procedure provides practitioners with a methodology and industry tailored user-friendly tools that support the preventive design of age-appropriate working conditions and thus counteract the demographic challenges in industry
Translated title of the contributionEntwicklung eines strukturierten Ansatzes für die Identifizierung von alterskritischen Arbeitsplätzen und deren Anpassung durch physische Assistenz.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Technology
Awarding Institution
  • Graz University of Technology (90000)
  • Ramsauer, Christian, Supervisor
  • Bruder, Ralph, Supervisor, External person
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2020


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