A longitudinal, prospective study was conducted on 3,020 aircraft employees to identify risk factors for reporting acute back pain at work. The premorbid data included individual physical, psychosocial, and workplace factors. During slightly more than 4 years of follow-up, 279 subjects reported back problems. Other than a history of current or recent back problems, the factors found to be most predictive of subsequent reports in a multivariate model were work perceptions and certain psychosocial responses identified on the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). Subjects who stated that they "hardly ever" enjoyed their job tasks were 2.5 times more likely to report a back injury (P = 0.0001) than subjects who "almost always" enjoyed their job tasks. The quintile of subjects scoring highest on Scale-3 (Hy) of the MMPI were 2.0 times more likely to report a back injury (P = 0.0001) than subjects with the lowest scores. The multivariate model, including job task enjoyment, MMPI Scale-3, and history of back treatment, revealed that subjects in the highest risk group had 3.3 times the number of reports in the lowest risk group. These findings emphasize the importance of adopting a broader approach to the multifaceted problem of back complaints in industry and help explain why past prevention efforts focusing on purely physical factors have been unsuccessful.