Self-reported work-related health problems

The responses to questions on ‘health, disability and work’ added to the French Continuous Employment Survey in 2007 suggest there is a link between workers’ exposure to risk factors and their self-reported chronic health problems. Workers with difficult working conditions reported more chronic health problems and a higher level of discomfort. Further research is required to confirm this finding as the study was based only on the declared perceptions of respondents.

In 2007, an additional section on ‘Health, Disability and Work’ was added to the Continuous Employment Survey carried out by the French National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE). A recent paper (in French, 1.47Mb PDF) by the Agency for Research, Studies and Statistics (DARES) of the Ministry of Work, Employment and Health summarises the main findings of this additional survey section.

The additional section was concerned with the chronic health problems experienced by workers in the last 12 months. Chronic problems were those defined as conditions lasting at least six months.

Chronic health problems and work

Some 68% of those interviewed reported suffering from a chronic health problem. Respondents were asked whether this chronic condition was their most serious health problem and the extent to which it was caused or aggravated by their work.

Half the workers (48%) who declared they had a health problem stated it was aggravated by their work. Men more often than women considered their most serious health problem to be ‘caused or made worse by work’ (55% against 47%). The most quoted problems were backache, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and mental distress.

A quarter of the workers (24%) stated they had a chronic health problem that was caused or aggravated by their job and which bothered them in their daily life. For half of these respondents (that is, 12% of respondents with an equal representation of women and men), the discomfort implied by their condition was considered significant.

Young people were less likely to report a chronic health problem related to work. Not surprisingly, the level of discomfort declared by respondents increased with their age. For example, 5.9% of those respondents under 30-years-old declared significant discomfort from their most serious chronic health problem caused or aggravated by their job. This proportion rose to 16.2% for workers more than 50-years-old (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Effect of age on chronic health problems

Figure 1: Effect of age on chronic health problems

Note: Discomfort from most serious chronic health problem related or aggravated by work, according to the age of the worker (%)

Source: Survey of Health, Disability and Work, 2007, INSEE-DARES

The importance of the discomfort also varied according to occupation. Farmers were the most likely to report a discomfort caused by their job, with 20.3% reporting having a chronic health problem due to their job which they considered significant (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Effect of occupation on chronic health problems

Figure 2: Effect of occupation on chronic health problems

Note: Discomfort from most serious chronic health problem related or made worse by work, according to occupation (%)

Source: Survey Health, Disability and Work, 2007, INSEE-DARES

Exposure to risk factors and health problems

There seems to be a link between the kind of risk factors to which workers are confronted and the conditions they develop. For example, the proportion of workers who declared that their most serious chronic health problem (only backache and MSDs are considered here) was caused or made worse by their job varied with the nature of exposure. In this case, the exposure to physical strain appears to be a risk factor. However, the combination of physical strain with mental strain seems to be even more detrimental (Figure 3). For example, 35.6% of workers whose most serious condition (backache or an MSD) was reported to be caused or aggravated by their job were exposed to physical strain during their working time. This proportion fell to only 13.9% for workers exposed only to mental strain.

Figure 3: Risk factors for most serious health problem related to work

Figure 3: Risk factors for most serious health problem related to work

Note: Proportion of respondents reporting that their most serious condition was caused or aggravated by their work (% of the working population)

Source: Survey Health, Disability and Work, 2007, INSEE-DARES

Similarly, there seems to be a relationship between exposure to psychological risks and psychological conditions. When psychological problems are tested, physical strain does not appear to be a risk factor (Figure 4). According to the data, 9.9% of respondents who were not exposed to mental or physical strains declared that their most serious condition was caused or aggravated by their job. This proportion rose to 27.1% among workers exposed to mental strain.

Figure 4: Effect of exposure to psychological risks

Figure 4: Effect of exposure to psychological risks

Note: Proportion of respondents reporting that their psychological condition was caused or aggravated by their work (% of the working population)

Source: Survey Health, Disability and Work, 2007, INSEE-DARES

Commentary

Several studies have confirmed the results of this survey on the relationship between working conditions and health problems declared by workers. However, this research is based only on employee perceptions. Further epidemiological investigations are necessary to confirm these findings including, for example, indications about the sense and the timing of the causality.

References

Coutrot, T. and Waltisperger, D., Les pathologies liées au travail vues par les travailleurs (1.47Mb PDF), Dares Analyses, No. 080, Paris, DARES, 2010.

European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Expert forecast on emerging physical risks related to occupational safety and health (2.12mb PDF), Luxembourg, Publications Office of the European Union, 2005.

Sarah Mongourdin-Denoix, HERA

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