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23 February 2018

Workers’ exposure to traditional physical risks remains high

An extensive survey on working conditions in France reveals that workers are subject to substantial ‘physical stresses’ in their workplace, and that they have less and less autonomy at work.

At the end of December 2017 a French Labour Ministry agency published the initial results of its survey on working conditions. They reveal that workers continue to be widely exposed to physical risks (e.g. noise, hazardous products, dust).

In 2016, 61 % of skilled workers and 63 % of unskilled workers were exposed to at least three physical stresses*. In comparison, in the 1984 survey these figures were just 24 % and 21 %, respectively. There are further examples of the continuation of, and indeed the increase in, exposure to traditional industrial risks: 54 % of unskilled workers are in contact with hazardous products (almost 10 % more than in 2005), 67 % of them breathe in fumes or dust and 36 % are exposed to loud noise. The situation is more or less the same for skilled workers.

Exposure among ‘blue-collar workers’ to physical risks is not counteracted by a high level of autonomy in their work. Only 58 % of unskilled workers can choose themselves how to meet their objectives, while 89 % of senior staff have that option. In addition, 77 % of them complain that they have to repeat the same series of movements or operations over and over, compared to just 12 % of senior staff. Just over half of all unskilled workers (54 %) feel that they learn new things at work, compared to 94 % of senior staff.

Unskilled workers are also more likely than other socio-professional categories to have to deal with certain work-related constraints: night work, strict monitoring of working hours, not knowing their hours for the next month and not being able to swap shifts with their colleagues.

*Of five stresses: standing up for a long time, staying in a painful position for a long time, making long or frequent trips on foot, carrying or moving heavy loads, experiencing jolts or vibrations.


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