Objectives There is considerable evidence documenting the association between psychosocial risk factors and work disability due to musculoskeletal disorders, and this has prompted suggestions that psychosocial screening should be administered in the workplace in order to identify individuals at risk of prolonged absence. However, the predictive value of psychosocial risk factors on return-to-work is largely unknown. The present study aimed to explore the predictive relationship between psychosocial risk factors and absence due to musculoskeletal disorders of the lower back and upper limbs.
Methods A prospective study of 4637 workers from a large, multi-site company in the UK was conducted in which a wide range of established questionnaires were used to collect baseline psychosocial data. Respondents were then followed over the ensuing 15 months, and absence due to musculoskeletal disorders was recorded.
Results 219 workers took absence due to musculoskeletal disorders. Detrimental cut-off scores (risks) on the psychosocial instruments were established, and it was found that work-related psychosocial risk factors predicted the likelihood of a future spell of absence (odds ratios ranging between 1.6 and 3.2), but not the duration of that absence.
Conclusions Although work-related psychosocial factors were associated with the occurrence of absence due to musculoskeletal disorders, these findings do not lend support to the use of routine occupational psychosocial screening in order to predict prolonged absence.