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To examine if occupational lifting assessed as cumulative years as a baggage handler is associated with first-time hospital diagnosis or treatment for low back disorders.
This study is based on the Copenhagen Airport Cohort consisting of male baggage handlers performing heavy lifting every day and a reference group of unskilled men from the greater Copenhagen area during the period 1990–2012. We followed the cohort in the National Patient Register and Civil Registration System to obtain information on diagnoses, surgery, mortality, and migration. The outcomes were first-time hospital diagnosis or surgery for (1) lumbar disc herniation or (2) low back pain (LBP).
Baggage handlers (N = 3473) had a higher incidence rate of LBP, but not of lumbar disc herniation, compared to the reference group (N = 65,702). Baggage handlers with longer employment had a higher incidence of LBP compared to baggage handlers with shorter employment. The linear association of cumulative years as a baggage handler on LBP was significantly increased with an incidence rate ratio of 1.16 (95% CI 1.07–1.25) for a 5-year increase of employment as baggage handler.
In this large cohort study, we found an increased incidence of LBP among baggage handlers compared to the reference group with indications of a dose–response relationship between years of employment and the outcome. For baggage handlers working on the apron, the incidence was particularly increased before introduction of technical lifting equipment, suggesting that preventive measures to reduce cumulative work load may have a positive effect.