Half of UK workers believe they have a less than one in ten chance of being unable to work through disability, a survey for Zurich has found.
The risk of being too ill or disabled to work for the general population was thought to be three in ten by 60% of those surveyed.
The majority (70%) were not offered income protection by their employer and 75% were not covered.
Figures from the Papworth Trust and the government show that 16% of the working age population suffer a disability which prevents them from working, while about 300,000 people annually have to give up work for health related issues.
Three quarters of those surveyed believed they were doing enough to prevent themselves having an occupational disability while 42% believed a healthy lifestyle was the best way to do so.
How to protect income in the event of illness or disability was known by 40%, while 44% anticipated their income being cut by up to half if they became unable to work.
The survey of 1000 people also found that 15% said they could maintain their current lifestyle on 50% less income.
The ages at which people were most likely to become unable to work through sickness of disability were thought to be later than is the case, the survey also found.
Just under 50% of those surveyed believed that those aged 45-54 are most at risk, while the likelihood rises from the age of 40, and by age 55, 28% can no longer work.
Peter Hamilton, head of retail propositions, Zurich UK Life said: "The study shows that while many people are positive and optimistic about their health and ongoing ability to earn, few seem to have adequate protection or savings to protect them against hardship if they couldn't work.
"There also seems to be a worrying lack of awareness of the support available through income protection which should form the building blocks of good financial planning.
"In the UK we are seeing a shift of responsibility from the state and employers onto individuals to make their own provision for themselves and their families if they become unable to work.
"More awareness raising is needed to show people what a difference this sort of cover can make - it often means the difference between keeping or losing the family home or getting access to the best care and support."