“Faire le point” (“Taking stock”) a collective questionnaire tool to help small enterprises to assess psychosocial risks

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V. Langevin, Département Expertise et conseil technique (Technical Expertise and Consulting Division), INRS, M. Malenfer, Mission TPE-PME (MSE section), INRS, A. Montagnez, Département Information et communication (Information & Communication Division), INRS, B. Vieillard, Direction Générale du Travail (Directorate-General for Labour)

Introduction

In order to help enterprises with fewer than 50 workers to meet their regulatory obligation to assess psychosocial risks (PSRs), the French public authorities and various French occupational safety and health bodies[1] have worked together to provide references, advice, and methodological tools. The results of their work have been put on line on a webpage specifically intended for small enterprises, under the “psychosocial risk” section of the French Ministry for Labour website [2] dedicated to occupational safety and health.

The online content is intended to be pragmatic and to enable small enterprises to be capable of making a first approach to PSRs on their own. The webpage breaks down into three parts:

  • Why does this concern me? This part proposes a series of questions and answers for understanding what PSRs are and for recapitulating the regulations that apply to all enterprises.
  • What should I do? This part proposes an approach and tools for assessing PSRs in enterprises that are too small to have Health, Safety, and Working Conditions Committees (CHSCTs).
  • Who can help me? This part identifies and describes the contacts to whom the enterprise can go for advice in taking PSRs into account.

The questionnaire tool entitled “Faire le point” (“Taking Stock”) is to be found in the “What should I do?” part.

The first version of the tool was published in October 2012 on the INRS website. It was then updated and a version of it was produced for the health and social sector in August 2013 [3].

Description of the tool

The “Taking stock” tool is made up of three components:

  • a grid in the form of an Excel macro (to be downloaded) including forty-one questions, to be answered collectively. For each question, 2 or 4 answer possibilities are proposed. They are opportunities to think about and to identify whether or not any PSR factors are present in the enterprise.
  • a results table generated when all of the answers to the questions have been written up in the Excel grid. It gives an overview of the families of PSR factors that are most prevalent in the enterprise (level of intensity of the risk for each theme addressed).
  • a summary memo giving keys to understanding, highlighting points calling for watchfulness, and giving avenues for action for helping the enterprise to build its own action plan and to plan PSR prevention measures. The summary memo gives general information, regardless of the levels of risk obtained.

Since the “Taking stock” tool is available for all on the INRS website, everyone can seize the opportunity and use it to suit their needs and their context [3]. It was designed to be used in self-administered manner by a small enterprise that is not in a situation in which social dialogue is poor. If the social climate is bad, or if the employees of the enterprise are manifestly suffering, external assistance is often necessary (through an occupational risk prevention officer (IPRP) from the occupational health service that covers the enterprise, or from the risk prevention service of the local CARSAT (Occupational Health and Pension Insurance Fund), for example).

In order for the use of the tool to be fruitful, the 41 questions should be discussed collectively in one or more working groups representative of the work units of the enterprise. Employee participation in the discussion should be voluntary. Notes taken during the discussion will be very useful later when defining the action plan of the enterprise.

Origin and mode of development of the tool

In 2008, the French public authorities stated they wished to have a system for statistically monitoring psychosocial risks. For that purpose, a college of experts was set up that brought together experienced researchers from various disciplines, and that was representative not only of French research but also of international research. It was chaired by Michel Gollac, who is a Sociologist, a Director of INSEE (the French National Statistics Office), and a Research Director.

A vast multi-disciplinary and international literature review made it possible to identify a range of occupational psychosocial risk factors that were grouped into six main themes.

The template for the tool was therefore determined on the basis of that categorisation. Other sources of information were used in addition. They were constituted by a non-exhaustive selection of French and other practical guides and tools, some of which are intended for small businesses (see list below).

A compilation and a comparison of the questions proposed both by the work of the college of experts and also by the selected guides, for each theme and for each risk factor, served as a basis for formulating the questions of the “Taking stock” tool, and, where necessary, those questions were adapted so as to address a group of workers (enterprise or work unit) rather than individuals responding alone and anonymously.

Contents of the tool

On the basis of the set of sources consulted, eight themes were selected to build the contents of the tool:

  • the six families of PSR factors proposed by the college of experts on statistical monitoring of PSRs at work; and
  • two other themes relating to the impact of PSRs on how the enterprise operates and on worker health, and to the health and safety policy already in place.

Work intensity and working time

This first theme corresponds to: the quantitative and qualitative demands of work; the constraints of pace; the existence of unrealistic or unclear objectives; uncontrolled versatility demands; contradictory instructions; long working weeks; atypical working hours; unpredictable working hours, etc.

Eight questions of the tool concern this family of risk factors:

  • Does the organisation in place in your enterprise make it possible to cope with the workload?
  • Do employees of the enterprise ever work over 45 hours a week?
  • Do your customers (or contractors) require you to work to tight deadlines?
  • Are employees frequently interrupted in their work in order to do unscheduled tasks?
  • Do employees do complex work requiring intense concentration?
  • Is your sector of activity reputed to be “difficult” (work physically arduous or psychologically hard, night work, anti-social hours, split shifts, recruitment difficulties, etc.)?
  • Does the enterprise’s organisation enable the employees to reconcile their life at work with their private life under good conditions (dates of leave, family or medical obligations, etc.)?
  • Are the employees contacted for work reasons outside working hours and periods on-call?

Emotional demands

Emotional demands are related to the need to control and to mould one's own emotions. They essentially concern service trades: requirement to smile and to be good humoured, tensions with the public, and being confronted with human suffering or distress. The requirement of having to hide one's emotions can also concern other sectors of activity in which the predominant culture is one of total self-control, regardless of circumstances, and of constantly showing a positive attitude.

Three questions of the tool concern this family of risk factors:

  • Do employees have to deal with difficult situations in their contact with members of the public (displeased customers, people in distress, etc.)?
  • Are employees attacked verbally (or physically) by customers, users, patients, etc.?
  • In your enterprise, is it the done thing to smile and be good humoured?

Autonomy

Autonomy at work means the possibility of playing an active part in all aspects of the job. It includes not only room for manoeuvre or leeway but also taking part in decision-making, and use and development of one's skills.

Four questions concern this family of risk factors:

  • Do employees have room for manoeuvre in the way they do their work (choice of methods, of tools, and of sequence of tasks, etc.)?
  • Can employees take breaks (for a few minutes) when they feel they need to?
  • Is it possible for employees to develop new know-how and/or new skills (training, tutoring/mentoring, etc.)?
  • Can employees temporarily change the pace at which they work (e.g. stop a machine or slow it down when they can no longer keep up with the pace, or spend longer periods with a customer)?

Social relations at work

Social relations at work encompass interpersonal relations between employees within the enterprise, and interpersonal relations between the employees and the organisation that employs them. They include relations with colleagues, relations with management, pay, career prospects, task-person match, work assessment procedures, and attention paid to the well-being of staff. They also relate to pathological social relations such as emotional harassment.

Ten questions concern this family of risk factors:

  • Have the employees (or their representatives) been associated with the answers to these questions?
  • Are the employees consulted about the fitting out of the premises, acquisition of new equipment, choice of tools or products, changes in opening days or opening times, etc.?
  • Is use of overtime anticipated? (if not applicable, check “yes”)
  • Do the employees of your firm form a united team (trust, mutual assistance, and conviviality)?
  • Is the prevailing climate in the enterprise one of respect and courtesy (politeness, absence of hurtful words or attitudes, etc.)?
  • Is it easy for the employees to contact a manager when they come up against a problem that they cannot solve themselves?
  • Do fair criteria exist that are written and/or known to everyone for access to training, awarding of bonuses, distribution of leave periods, and distribution of “thankless” tasks, etc.?
  • Are all employees kept regularly informed about how the enterprise is doing (order book, development project, loss of customers, etc.)?
  • Are employees likely to be watched over at any time while they are doing their work?
  • Is the distribution of tasks among everyone clearly established?

Conflicting values

Value conflicts are any intrapsychic conflicts relating to “what counts” in the eyes of the employees in their work, i.e. what they deem to be important as regards their life at work. Not being able to do quality work, having to do tasks that are contrary to one's professional, social, or personal values, or doing work that one deems to be unnecessary are some of the forms that value conflicts can take, and they raise questions about the meaningfulness of the work.

Although this family of risk factors (called meaningfulness of work in the tool) is difficult to approach through collective questions, four questions are related to it in the tool:

  • Do employees feel that their work counts towards the end result?
  • Do employees receive regular feedback about their work (results, customer satisfaction, etc.)?
  • Is it possible for employees to exchange opinions about how to do the work (between themselves and with the management)?
  • Do employees feel they are able to do quality work (pride in a job well done)?

Job insecurity

Job insecurity includes both socioeconomic insecurity (job instability, not maintaining pay level, and absence of career advancement), and also the risk of uncontrolled changes to the job to be done and to working conditions (restructuring being an example of one of the most serious types of change).

Two questions concern this family of risk factors:

  • Does the enterprise have difficulties in its relations with contractors (defaulting on contractual commitments, changes in deadlines, changes in requirements)?
  • Do employees have to cope with uncertainties (unstable work schedule, delay in payment of salaries or wages, insecurity of contracts, risk of losing their jobs, etc.)?

Impact of PSRs on the enterprise and on the employees

Here, the idea is to seek to identify the indices or indicators that can be considered as possible consequences of the presence of PSRs for the enterprise and for the health of its employees.

Five questions address this theme. They have been placed at the beginning to facilitate getting into the tool:

  • Is the enterprise confronted with a recurrent problem of absenteeism?
  • Does the enterprise encounter difficulties in retaining its employees?
  • Are anomalies such as: customer complaints, defective work, errors, delays, etc. frequent?
  • Has the occupational physician who is assigned to your enterprise reported to you in a warning letter or in the enterprise datasheet any MSD problems (pains in joints, back, shoulders, elbows, etc.)?
  • Has the occupational physician who is assigned to your firm reported to you in a warning letter or in the enterprise datasheet any problems of suffering at work (stress, disputes, harassment, etc.)?

Occupational safety and health context in the enterprise

The purpose of these questions is to estimate the extent to which occupational safety and health is taken into account in the enterprise. The existence of risk prevention in the enterprise is considered, in the tool, to be a favourable element in specifically addressing PSRs.

Five questions relate to this theme. They have been placed at the end because they are less directly related to the theme of PSRs:

  • Is the document for occupational risk assessment up to date (less than a year old)?
  • Have actions been taken to prevent each of the risks identified in the document for occupational risk assessment?
  • Are accidents, even non-serious ones, analysed?
  • Are employees exposed to at least one of the following types of nuisances: noise, dust, dangerous chemical substances, very hot or very cold temperatures, awkward postures, repetitive actions, vibration, carrying heavy loads, etc.?
  • Are there any isolated workstations (where a worker is on their own without being seen or heard directly by others)?

Conclusion

Put on line in October 2012, the “Taking stock” tool has been very regularly downloaded from the INRS website (several tens of thousands of times). Numerous testimonials from users and requests for assistance have been received. They attest to the tool being used operationally in enterprises. This popularity can be explained by certain characteristics of the tool:

  • using it does not require any particular skill and it is freely available to all; it can thus be used without external assistance;
  • it addresses all PSR factors and not merely one category of them;
  • it proposes a collective approach to PSR assessment, setting it apart from individual questionnaires that are difficult to use in small structures;
  • it uses simple vocabulary and simple questions, making it a teaching aid for PSR training.

However, the tool has its limitations:

  • it is only a tool, and its effectiveness depends on the use that is made of it;
  • it being available in the form of an MS Excel macro limits its use to computer stations that have the appropriate configuration.

These limitations are all focuses for work to improve it:

  • by developing more precise recommendations on the manners in which it should be used, in particular based on feedback;
  • by putting it on another computer medium so as to facilitate use of it by the broadest possible range of users;
  • by using this base to adapt or develop its contents to suit the various sectors of activity.

Sources used in the development phase of the "taking stock" tool

GOLLAC M. & BODIER M. Mesurer les facteurs psychosociaux de risqué au travail pour les maîtriser. Collège d’expertise sur le suivi des risques psychosociaux au travail, 2011 (www.college-risquespsychosociaux-travail.fr/rapport-final,fr,8,59.cfm)

COUTROT T., MERMILLIOD C. Les risques psychosociaux au travail : les indicateurs disponibles. Dares Anal, 2010; 81: 1-10.

CHOUANIERE D., FRANÇOIS M., GUYOT S., LANGEVIN V. et al. - Dépister les risques psychosociaux, des indicateurs pour vous guider. 3rd edition. Edition INRS ED 6012; Paris: INRS; 2010: 48 p.

Agir contre le stress, pour une action de prévention du stress en entreprise. Paris: French Metallurgical Industry and Trades Association (UIMM, Union des Industries et Métiers de la Métallurgie); 2010: 40 p.

Liste de contrôle Stress. La sécurité c’est realisable. Lucerne: Suvapro ; 2000: 4 p.

Le stress en milieu professionnel : signaux et causes, check-list pour les dirigeants d’entreprises. Stressnostress, 2004, 6 p.

Aspects psychosociaux. Série stratégie Sobane.

Gestion des risques professionnels. Service public federal Emploi, Travail et Concertation sociale, 2010 (http://www.emploi.belgique.be/publicationDefault.aspx?id=19238).

KOMPIER M.A., LEVY L. Stress at work: Causes, effects, and prevention: a guide for small and medium sized enterprises.The Information Booklet Series: Booklet No. 21. Dublin: European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions; 1995: 72 p.

VEZINA M (Ed) - Grille d’identification des risques psychosociaux au travail. Updated March 2011. Publication 1269. Québec: Institut national de la santé publique du Québec (INSPQ); 2011: 42 p.

RICHTER G, GRUBER H, FRIESENBICHLER H, USCILOWSKA A et al. - Guide for Risk Assessment in Small and Medium Enterprises No. 5. Mental Workload: Identification and Evaluation of Hazards; Taking Measures. Vienna: International Social Security Association (ISSA); 2008: 15 p.

References

  1. Direction Générale du Travail du ministère chargé du Travail (Directorate-General for Labour, Labour ministry), ANACT (French Agency for Improved Working Conditions), INRS (French Research and Safety Institute for the Prevention of Occupational Accidents and Diseases), Direction des Risques Professionnels (Occupational Risks Directorate) of the CNAM-TS (French National Health Insurance Fund for Salaried Employees), Services de l’Inspection du Travail (French Labour Inspectorate Services), CARSAT (French Occupational Health and Pension Insurance Fund), etc.
  2. http://travail-emploi.gouv.fr/sante-au-travail/prevention-des-risques/risques-psychosociaux/petites-entreprises/
  3. 3.0 3.1 http://www.inrs.fr/media.html?refINRS=outil37