Musculoskeletal symptoms in pharmaceutical sales representatives

Background: Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are a leading cause of work-related ill health. Existing literature indicates that pharmaceutical sales representatives (PSRs) report a high prevalence of MSDs, possibly exacerbated by the nature of work (prolonged driving and manual handling). In addition, they experience difficulty in accessing occupational health services. Aims: To assess the prevalence of musculoskeletal symptoms and associated risk factors among PSRs in order to assist their occupational health management through raising risk awareness. Methods: A self-completed questionnaire distributed to 205 PSRs within a UK pharmaceutical company was used to assess the prevalence of musculoskeletal symptoms, psychosocial factors, work tasks undertaken and company car use. To assist understanding of work tasks and organizational factors, semistructured interviews were undertaken with a sample of 12 key personnel. Results: The questionnaire response rate was 68%. PSRs reported high mileage and 100% reported working from the car in a typical day. Forty-seven per cent reported both manual handling for ‡4 h/day and ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ working from the car. Fifty-seven per cent reported low back symptoms in the last 12 months. Interview data revealed issues relating to car choice, storage in the boot and working from the car, which should be considered when developing priorities for preventive management of MSDs. Conclusions: Musculoskeletal symptoms appear to be a problem for PSRs, with risk factors reported as prolonged driving, sitting in the car, working from the car and manual handling. Interventions to facilitate their occupational health management should focus on raising awareness of the risks of prolonged driving and working from the car.