Purpose There is a clear need for interventions that successfully prevent the development of disability due to back pain. We hypothesized that an intervention aimed at both the worker and the workplace could be effective. Hence, we tested the effects of a new early intervention, based on the misdirected problem solving model, aimed at both workers at risk of long-term impairments and their workplace. Methods Supervisors of volunteers with back pain, no red flags, and a high score on a screen (Örebro Musculoskeletal Screening Questionnaire) were randomized to either an evidence based treatment as usual (TAU) or to a worker and workplace package (WWP). The WWP intervention included communication and problem solving skills for the patient and their immediate supervisor. The key outcome variables of work absence due to pain, health-care utilization, perceived health, and pain intensity were collected before, after and at a 6 month follow up. Results The WWP showed significantly larger improvements relative to the TAU for work absence due to pain, perceived health, and health-care utilization. Both groups improved on pain ratings but there was no significant difference between the groups. The WWP not only had significantly fewer participants utilizing health care and work absence due to pain, but the number of health care visits and days absent were also significantly lower than the TAU. Conclusions The WWP with problem solving and communication skills resulted in fewer days off work, fewer health care visits and better perceived health. This supports the misdirected problem solving model and indicates that screening combined with an active intervention to enhance skills is quite successful and likely cost-effective. Future research should replicate and extend these findings with health-economic analyses.