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Occup Environ Med. 2002 Apr;59(4):269-77.

Epidemiological study to investigate potential interaction between physical and psychosocial factors at work that may increase the risk of symptoms of musculoskeletal disorder of the neck and upper limb.

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  • 1Robens Centre for Health Ergonomics, European Institute of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey GU2 7TE, UK.



To investigate potential interactions between physical and psychosocial risk factors in the workplace that may be associated with symptoms of musculoskeletal disorder of the neck and upper limb.


891 of 1514 manual handlers, delivery drivers, technicians, customer services computer operators, and general office staff reported on physical and psychosocial working conditions and symptoms of neck and upper limb disorders using a self administered questionnaire (59% return rate). Of the 869 valid questionnaire respondents, 564 workers were classified in to one of four exposure groups: high physical and high psychosocial, high physical and low psychosocial, low physical and high psychosocial, and low physical and low psychosocial. Low physical and low psychosocial was used as an internal reference group. The exposure criteria were derived from the existing epidemiological literature and models for physical and psychosocial work factors. The frequency and amplitude of lifting and the duration spent sitting while experiencing vibration were used as physical exposure criteria. Ordinal values of mental demands, job control, and social support with managers and coworkers were used as psychosocial exposure criteria.


In the multivariate analyses, the highest and significant increase in risk was found in the high physical and high psychosocial exposure group for symptoms of hand or wrist and upper limb disorders after adjusting for years at the job, age, and sex. A potential interaction effect was found for the symptoms of the hand or wrist and upper limb disorders but not for the neck symptoms.


This study showed that workers highly exposed to both physical and psychosocial workplace risk factors were more likely to report symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders than workers highly exposed to one or the other. The results suggest an interaction between physical and psychosocial risk factors in the workplace that increased the risk of reporting symptoms in the upper limbs. Psychosocial risk factors at work were more important when exposure to physical risk factors at work were high than when physical exposure was low. Ergonomic intervention strategies that aim to minimise the risks of work related musculoskeletal disorders of the upper limb should not only focus on physical work factors but also psychosocial work factors.

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