Place of work and working conditions – France

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Published on: 25 June 2007

Anne-Marie Nicot and Nadia Rahou

Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited or approved by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.

This report analyses the working conditions of three different types of employees not working at their usual place of work in France: teleworkers, employees working at customer’ s premises (home care and subcontracting), and those travelling frequently as an important part of their job. Workplace diversity can be the cause for additional occupational hazards. Employees have to adapt to different working environments, which has an impact on their exposure to occupational hazards, and they frequently travel from one place to another, thereby subjecting themselves to road-related risks.

1. Incidence of working away from the place of work

Generally speaking, there is no precise quantitative data on employees who do not work at their place of work all the time. However, it has been possible to gather quantitative and qualitative data on particular groups of workers that can be assimilated to teleworkers. We will therefore establish a specific typology of teleworkers according to the workplace in which they operate (other than within the company).

Therefore when they are not working within their company, we distinguish between workers:

  • Conducting their activity at home through telework,

  • Conducting their activity at customers’ devices (personal or corporate services),

  • Frequently travelling on business trips or more specifically, employees who must travel in the context of their job.

Within this typology, several forms, fields or sectors of activity deserve special attention insofar as they represent today in France, to a greater or lesser extent, the phenomenon of “workplace diversity”.

Firstly, with respect to working from home or peripatetic work, the studies in France deal with telework. This form of work today accounts for 1.5 million employees in France, or 7% of employees. Of this 7%, 2% work from home while 5% are peripatetic. Teleworkers based at home claim to frequently use a computer and to work always or often at home. Peripatetic teleworkers frequently use computers and divide their time between several workplaces, working rarely at home. Teleworkers tend to be highly qualified men, half of whom are executives and a third in middle-management. The main user sectors are corporate services, banks and insurance firms.

The second phenomenon that we have selected as a factor of workplace diversity is characterised by the worker’s shift closer to the customer. Indeed, recent years have shown a considerable increase in service-related professions. Within these professions, we shall distinguish between services directly geared towards individuals, focusing more specifically on personal services provided through the case of home care on the one hand, and the phenomenon of sub-contracting on the other hand.

Personal services have witnessed a sharp increase in the number of employees in recent years due to the ageing population and the development of household lifestyles which have generated a growing need for home help. The working conditions of these activities are greatly influenced by the diversity of workplaces in which they are conducted.

Sub-contracting, part of which consists of a user company allocating work to an external company on its own site and in the scope of its own business, has also sharply risen over the past thirty years or so. This type of sub-contracting concerns industrial maintenance in particular, as it accounts for a turnover of about 6 billion euros. Workers employed by the so-called external company are required to a work at the customers' site, and have therefore to fulfil their role in various workplaces.

The third employee category we are interested in is employees for whom business trips are a large part of their job. Indeed, a major shift can be seen in the working world over recent years requiring employees to travel daily in the context of their jobs. This is the case for several professional categories: management staff, sales representatives, craft workers, drivers, couriers, employees in building and public works, etc. These employees often drive in the context of their job and are particularly subjected to occupational hazards in the form of road accidents.

2. Health and safety

Workplace diversity subjects the employees concerned to occupational hazards through two factors inherent in this phenomenon. Firstly, they must adapt to different working environments, which has an impact on their exposure to occupational hazards. Secondly, they frequently travel from one place to another, thereby subjecting them to road-related risks.

Occupational hazards brought about by an inability to manage the work environment, as it is diverse

Personal services: the case of home help

Partly caused by the diversity of workplaces in which they must work, home helps are subjected to both physical and psychosocial risks. Indeed, their job is characterised by the provision of services from help in the bathroom to day care and housework, all of which take place directly at the individual’s home. The risks caused by the changing nature of the workplace are essentially road-related. However, these are not the only risks, insofar as the home help takes place in different environments with different tools, products and instructions which call for constant adaptation and a greater workload for this type of employee.

A study conducted by A.M Nicot and F. Yahiaoui on the home help sector demonstrates that their working conditions are characterised by:

  • A very intensive work rate relating to the extensive breaking up of working time (services are provided at the individual’s home in 1 hour slots or less, broken up by the travel time which can vary in duration especially in a rural setting);

  • Commuting time which is not always included in working time;

  • Mileage reimbursed to varying extents;

  • A lack of moral support due to isolated work.

As a concrete illustration of the impact of workplace diversity on health at work in this sector of activity, information provided by INRS gives relative cause for concern. It reports:

  • Occupational illnesses such as musculoskeletal disorders, back problems, depression, etc.

  • Frequent cases of being unfit for work,

  • And finally, occupational accidents through road hazards and falls.


The jobs most commonly allocated by a company to an external service provider primarily concern maintenance work in large facilities in sectors such as: chemicals, petrochemicals, the steel and nuclear industries. Indeed, these different sectors call on an increasing number of employees belonging to dozens of sub-contracting companies which must operate on sites where the conditions in terms of work organisation and time pressure are determined by the contacting company. The labour regulations and collective agreements that govern these sub-contracting companies are many. The most typical sector in France is the nuclear sector, the main operator being EDF. The volume of hours sub-contracted by this company amounts to approximately 14 million hours per year, given that it sub-contracts over 85% of its nuclear maintenance work. More specifically, over 22,000 DATR employees (employees Directly Assigned to Work with exposure to Radiation) and over 1,000 companies are concerned (French Ministry of Employment and Solidarity 2001, Doniol-Shaw et al.1995).

Studies on health at work for sub-contracting employees are few, but they unanimously show that their working conditions (organisation of hours and work, quality of work tools, etc.) are not as good on the whole as for employees who work in-house. Indeed, the tasks they are assigned tend to be more dangerous, which reveals a trend whereby the user company out sources risk to the external company.

The STED epidemiological survey (EDF-DATR sub-contracting) conducted in 1993 on a cross-section of 2,500 DATR employees emphasises the consequences of sub-contracting in nuclear maintenance activities on the health of employees. For instance, it highlights the fact that in terms of exposure to ionising radiation, sub-contracting employees absorb 85% of the annual radiological dose, comparatively to EDF workers who only absorb 15%. But it also shows that the health risks are increasing due to the fact that these sub-contracting employees who intervene in facilities only from time to time are unable to manage their work environment like the permanent employees.

Generally, there are different types of strains for these sub-contracting employees:

  • Time pressure due to the high daily amplitude of working hours, but also to the absence of weekly rest.

  • Pace of work strains due to emergencies, interruptions, waiting time, etc.

  • Physical work load,

  • Environmental hardness due to noise, heat and exposure to toxic substances.

  • Mobility constraints shown by the fact that a quarter of the employees asked are absent from home more than six months of the year.

Occupational hazards heightened by travel from one workplace to another: road-related risks

In many companies, some employees frequently travel by road for their work, although driving is not their core business. The professional categories concerned are, on the one hand, those on which we have concentrated on in this study (home help and sub-contractors), but also management staff, sales representatives, building and public work employees who devote a large part of their time to commuting between the various places where they work. This extensive section of working time spent on the road therefore increases the chances of an accident. According to the Social Security system, in 2005, road accidents account for 57, 2 % of all fatal occupational and journey accidents. For the occupational road accidents, they are fatal in 28, 3 % of the cases and result in a permanent inability to work in 5, 5 % of the cases

In terms of institutional mobilisation, several actions are conducted to avoid road accidents:

  • A national prevention charter on road risks in companies was signed in 1999 between the Caisse Nationale de l’assurance maladie pour les travailleurs salariés (CNAM-TS) and the Direction de la sécurité et de la circulation routière (DSCR).

  • Reducing the number of fatal road accidents linked to work” is the primary goal of the 2005-2009 Health at Work Plan, which is applied through multiannual action plans by organisations for the prevention of occupational accidents.

  • Good practices guides were adopted in 2003-2004 by the Commission des accidents du travail et des maladies professionnelles (CAT-MP). 

3. Work organisation

Working in places other than the company implies specific forms of work organisation.

Studies on remote management are mainly focused on telework in France. A survey conducted in 2002 by ANACT on several French companies having adopted the telework concept demonstrates that because efficiency cannot be measured visually, supervisors are required to “leave it to” the experience acquired by teleworkers and their capacity to work in an autonomous and responsible manner. They are assessed on the basis of results, which implies a project style management. Teleworkers and, more generally, employees working remotely, are managed by means of a results assessment and not through the means used to reach them. This differs from a traditional style of management essentially based on managing the different tasks that make up the employee’s job. Also, it is possible to correlate this project-based management, based on the teleworkers ability to work with autonomy and with relatively large room for manoeuvre, and the fact that they are subject to a greater flexibility in the organisation of their working time. According to the PCV survey, teleworkers more commonly report that they work at night, on Saturday or Sunday. 20% of them state that they regularly work at night after 10pm and before 6am, compared with 10% of other employees.

Still according to the Anact study (Bérard et Al., 2002), teleworkers do not attest to a particular social isolation. 63% of them claim to socialise with colleagues outside the workplace, compared with 52% of other employees. Conversely, for sub-contracting employees, judging from studies on the same topic, the mobility imposed on them makes it almost impossible to build stable social groups. The company as a place for building social groups feels the adverse effect of workplace diversity and the decline of union representation which is one of the major consequences (G. Doniol-Shaw et Al., 1995). For private services, the same applies as these are by definition individual in nature. Indeed, home helps are even “isolated” (F.Yahiaoui, A-M. Nicot, 2002), a state of affairs which is accentuated by the absence of social time organised within their organisation, which could be spent in discussion with their supervisors and colleagues. Home helps are effectively waiting for places and moments to discuss the problems they come up against.

4. Working time and work/life balance

The work life balance is one of the main topics covered in articles and studies on telework. The home is the common setting in the two spheres and the issue of their coexistence is inevitably raised. In this respect, the ANACT study (Bérard et Al., 2002) underscores the fact that telework gives employees more flexibility in their time management, which means for instance that they can leave to carry out activities relating to their private life (picking up a child from school, doing the shopping, etc.). The majority of teleworkers asked stated that they had resolved or avoided conflict between the two spheres, but that this nonetheless required “a certain amount of self-discipline”.

In the case of workers who are required to work in several workplaces other than their company or at home, the reconciliation of professional and private life seems much more problematic. The most representative case is that of employees involved in sub-contracting. To come back to the results of the STED survey (Doniol-Shaw et Al., 1995), business trips and separation from family life are the main reasons given by employees for their reason to change jobs. Indeed, 60% of employees are required to travel outside of the area where their main residence is located and a quarter of them are absent from home over six months of the year. Two-thirds of employees in the survey therefore consider the time they have for themselves and their family as insufficient. The desire to be near the family is therefore the first reason cited by employees hoping to change job quickly or in the long-term (40% of employees).

Anne-Marie Nicot,ANACT and Nadia Rahou,IRES France

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