Overview of policy, strategy and programmes in relation to the occupational health and safety of older workers - France
European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA)
Initiatives from government/ government-affiliated organisations
The adoption of an approach that relates to the employment and working conditions of older workers is fairly recent in France (see section 1.3 for more detailed explanations). The National Action Plan for the Employment of Older Workers 2006-2010 was the first policy document adopting a global approach on the issue and going beyond active labour market policies. The Law on the funding of social security for 2009 (see Section 1.3) launching the company agreements on the employment of older workers has been a turning point as it explicitly links increasing the labour participation of older workers with the improvement of their working conditions. Soon after the adoption of the law, the focus shifted from the question of age to the question of career path management and generational relationships in companies (with the Generation Contract).
Very recently, France has been moving towards a more holistic approach to work with the adoption of the national agreement on quality of life at work. It encompasses several of the dimensions of sustainable work (as per the definition of Eurofound), including working conditions, work organisation, personal and professional development and work-life balance. France has also included a dimension related to gender equality.
In France, measures promoting better working conditions for older workers can be classified as follows (and are described in the next pages according to this classification):
- Health and safety measures (strengthening medical surveillance, improving diagnosis of potentially dangerous working conditions, and the prevention of occupational diseases) and measures promoting the improvement of working conditions
- Measures promoting the improvement of work organisation and transition between work and retirement
- Measures promoting career management and professional re-orientation
- Information and communication measures
Occupational health and safety and the improvement of working conditions
The OSH strategy, the National plan for health at work 2010-2014, set as a main horizontal objective the improvement of working conditions for all ages, and referred to the prevention of arduous working conditions and the promotion of the quality of employment as a condition to retain older workers on the labour market. On older workers specifically, the National plan mentioned the necessity to develop actions on work organisation and working time, medical monitoring, adaptation of workplaces and professional re-orientation.
The upcoming OSH strategy, the third Health at Work Plan will more specifically address working capacities and professional exclusion. The priorities identified for the new plan include providing better individual support to retain workers with reduced working capacities on the labour market in an attempt to address the impacts of population ageing, the extension of working lives and the multiplication of chronic diseases. The Plan aims at facilitating negotiations in companies on ‘sustainable work’ until retirement age (travail durable), including skills development, career and skills management and in last resort retraining. Research has recently been conducted in France on sustainable work; the term is used in a policy document for the first time.
A number of measures have been put in place by the government over the past few years for the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases, usually directed at all workers or workers exposed to arduous working conditions, but sometimes targeting specifically older workers. The measures studied in the context of this report are usually contained in wider policy or legal frameworks. Within the Company Agreements for the employment of older workers (see section 1.3) adopted by companies or by industry associations, a number of measures, taken under the priority ‘Improvement of working conditions and the prevention of arduous working conditions’ relate to working conditions and can be extremely varied from one company to the next. Examples include:
- reduction of the workload;
- work schedule adaptations (e.g. prohibition of night work);
- adaptation of work stations and more frequent workplace check-ups;
- setting up a company observatory of working conditions;
- health and safety training programmes for employees and employers/human resources on working conditions;
- in-depth analysis of working conditions in the company;
- Awareness-raising activities and consultation of workers
Specialists claim that the improvement of working conditions, autonomy at work and prevention directed at older workers are good for all employees. Studies show that in the company agreements for the employment of older workers, measures specifically addressing working conditions are less taken up by companies than measures on skills and training. Recent assessments of the company agreements indicate that, although companies have set very prudent objectives and the impacts of the agreements have varied a lot across companies, the law has had a positive effect in encouraging enterprises to look into the issue of older workers’ working conditions.
To help companies fulfil their obligations in drawing up agreements on strenuous working conditions and on the employment of older workers (see section 1.3), the National Agency for the Improvement of Working Conditions (ANACT) has set up a number of instruments aiming to raise awareness of HR managers or to assist them in assessing working conditions in their enterprise.
One such instrument is the Fund for the Improvement of Working Conditions (FACT), managed by the ANACT. The FACT was created in the wake of the National Plan for Health at Work and the National Plan for the Employment of Older workers (2006-2010) to assist companies, and especially SMEs, to implement prevention measures. The FACT finances companies employing fewer than 250 workers or sectoral organisations to set up projects addressing musculoskeletal disorders, psychosocial risks, the evaluation of occupational risks and the employment of older workers, with a focus on strenuous working conditions. The FACT finances in particular innovative approaches including consulting services for companies (for instance ergonomic studies, methodological tools, exchanges of good practices between companies or feasibility studies prior to installing new equipment). The financial support is limited to 1000€ per day for 15 days. ANACT pays the subsidy at the end of the project and evaluates the action that has been implemented in the company. Representatives of employees must be informed of the agreement with the ANACT and must be involved in the implementation of the project. In general, the subject of the working conditions of older workers is not very popular among companies that make use of the FACT. In 2011, only six projects focused on the working conditions of older workers out of the 76 financed by the FACT (compared to 30 on psychosocial risks, 24 on the general improvement of working conditions and 16 on MSDs). The large majority (67%) of the beneficiaries are SMEs, which do not have to negotiate agreements or action plans on the employment of older workers. The FACT could consequently be a good tool to assist SMEs on this issue.
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) have received particular attention from the French government, including the organisation of awareness-raising campaigns by the Ministry of Employment in 2011, studies in specific sectors (constructions, agriculture) on the topic, prevention guidelines published by the ANACT or the INRS. MSDs are also a priority in the national action programmes of the Commission for accidents at work and occupational diseases (CAT-MP). In particular, the 2010-2012 action plan of the Commission contained a specific programme for support to SMEs on musculoskeletal disorders. From 2009 to 2013, companies employing fewer than 50 workers from all sectors received financial support to hire a specialist in the prevention of occupational risks to assist them in carrying out a diagnosis of the risks of MSDs in their company and preparing a prevention plan. The financial support could cover up to 50% of the costs of the diagnosis (up to a maximum of 2000€).
Finally, a number of instruments have been put in place to support companies with OSH prevention. These are directed at all workers and not specifically older workers:
- A National Fund for supporting actions towards the reduction of strenuous working conditions (Fonds national de soutien relative à la pénibilité du travail), created in 2010, finances the projects of enterprises or sectoral associations which aim to improve working conditions. It is funded by the government and the Commission for accidents at work and occupational diseases (CAT-MP – see section 1.2) of the social security services. However, restrictive application criteria have limited the use of this fund by companies.
- A new partnership between the Commission for accidents at work and occupational diseases (CAT-MP), the National pension fund (CNAV), the INRS and the ANACT, aiming to prevent occupational accidents and diseases of older workers in enterprises, is under discussion. This partnership should, in the medium term, improve the coordination between these different bodies and offer more coherent and structured assistance to companies and workers. This would include support with assessments of work stations and with discussing the career paths of older workers.
Transition between work and retirement
In an effort to retain workers on the labour market, recent labour policies have reduced access to pre-retirement systems. In this respect, the “progressive early retirement” (pré-retraite progressive), that enabled workers over 55 to work part-time until retirement with a supplementary allowance, was cancelled by the reform of the pension system in 2003, and the focus shifted from early retirement, allowing workers to leave before legal retirement age, to mechanisms that allow workers to work longer by combining employment and pension. However, a large number of companies, especially large ones, still finance retirement schemes similar to the former progressive early retirement.
A “progressive retirement” scheme (retraite progressive) was created by the reform of the pension system of 9 November 2010 (see section 1.4). It is included in the 2006-2010 Action Plan for the Employment of Older Workers as a measure promoting the transition between employment and retirement, but it is not an early retirement mechanism. It enables workers who have reached the legal retirement age (62) – and have worked at least 150 terms – to work part-time and earn both income and a portion of their pension. A worker who benefits from this mechanism continues to pay contributions and therefore continues to increase his/her pension benefits. This scheme is managed by pension funds. The employee must address a formal request to his/her pension fund, four months before the beginning of the progressive retirement. There is no obligation for employers to accept employees’ requests to work part-time. The scheme has an employment perspective rather than a health and safety focus, as it only concerns workers who have reached the legal retirement age. However, with the extension of the contribution period following the reform of 2014, making it harder for many workers to get full pension rights at the age of 62, this mechanism could enable workers to continue working after 62 while better managing their workload and working time.
The progressive retirement scheme remains little known and underused: there were only 2000 beneficiaries in 2012; only 22% of workers know this scheme, and 38% have heard about it without clearly knowing what it is. The report of the Commission on the future of pensions proposes to make progressive retirement more attractive by opening it to more categories of workers and facilitating access to the scheme. According to sociologist Anne-Marie Guillemard, progressive retirement has had little success due to the fact that that these kind of programmes have adverse effects on professional identity and are perceived as a sort of stigmatisation of employees who are partly in the firm and partly out, with less latitude of action and possibilities to participate in decisions.
The “working time account” (compte épargne temps) can be used to organise flexible leave arrangements or part-time work in the last working years. The working time account was introduced by the law of July 1994 on the improvement of workers’ participation in the company and was included in the 2006-2010 Action Plan for the Employment of Older Workers, as a measure that can help better management of the last years of work. The working time account, beneficial to all workers, is The working time account enables an employee to receive additional paid annual leave or remuneration (exceeding 24 days) in return for holiday periods or time off that have not been taken before. It is regulated under a collective agreement or company agreement, or failing that, a branch agreement: implementation details and conditions of use are decided at company level. In 2009, only 12% of employees had working time accounts. In all sectors, managers and engineers more frequently have one. Among them, 43% state that they were provided this account without asking, 35% chose it, essentially to carry-over their vacation, but also, for a minority to prepare for their retirement (15%). The possibility of using the time saved to work part-time is not always included in the company or sector agreement. It should be noted that since it is possible to transfer rights from the working time account to the collective retirement saving plan (PERCO), the working time account could be used more as a tool to save money for pension rights than for reducing working time.
Career management and vocational training
Several instruments exist to help workers in their professional reorientation towards less demanding jobs, being personal skill assessments or vocational training programmes. However, these instruments are little used in companies, especially for older workers.
A personal “skills’ assessment” (bilan de compétences), performed by an external service provider, can be asked for by the employee, or carried out on the employer’s initiative, with a view to developing a career or training plan. An employee with at least five years’ experience and at least one year in the company can ask for special leave to perform the skills’ assessment. All employees, regardless of their age, can ask for this type of assessment as long as they have the number of years required to be granted the leave.
More targeted at older workers, an “individual interview to prepare the second part of the career” (entretien de seconde partie de carrière) proposed to workers aged 45 and over to set up a career plan, is now accessible in many companies. Originally, in the 2005 national cross-industry agreement of October 2005 on the employment of older workers (see section 1.3), the measure was defined as an interview assessing the employee’s situation in the company and his/her professional development and skills and training needs, in light of the employment perspectives in the company. According to the cross-industry agreement, the interview should point at evolutions, re-orientations, or improvement of working conditions that could help the employee to stay in employment and adapt to the evolution of his/her business or profession. The measure was included in the National Plan on the Employment of Older Workers in 2006. The obligation of performing this individual interview in companies employing more than 50 workers has then been introduced in the Labour Code in 2009. However, the definition of the measure in the Labour Code limits it to an interview where the employer informs the employee about his/her rights to access a professional step assessment (bilan d’étape professionnelle), a professional skills assessment (bilan de competence- see above) or professional training. The first interview is performed in the year when the employee reaches 45 years old. Evaluations of company agreements show that, although this measure is included in two thirds of the agreements, results are not satisfactory. Few interviews are actually carried out, partly because they are not requested by employees.
The Law of 14 June 2013 on the protection of jobs, implementing the cross industry agreement of 11 January 2013, creates a new a skill assessment to help employees better plan and prepare their career path, anticipate changes and find assistance for retraining and professional reorientation. The “counselling in professional development” (conseil en évolution professionnelle) is implemented through the local public service for professional orientation (service public local de l’orientation) and should provide information to workers on the schemes or funds they can have access to. The same law has also reformed the French vocational training system, by creating a “personal training account” (compte personnel de formation). Contrary to the former vocational training system, employees can keep their training rights even if they change jobs and can use them when they are unemployed. The implementation and management procedures remain to be determined through negotiations with social partners that should not be concluded before the end of 2013. Among vocational training schemes, the programme known as “professional training period” (périodes de professionalization), aims to retain in employment, workers who are likely to encounter difficulties to perform their tasks. Beneficiaries targeted are workers that could lack skills linked to the evolution of technologies and work organisations. Workers over 45 years of age or with twenty years of professional experience can apply. Training programmes available under this scheme are defined by sectoral agreements; they are consequently different for each sector.
With the creation of a “saving account compensating for the arduous working conditions” (compte épargne pénibilité), people working in dangerous or arduous conditions affecting life expectancy should also have access to specific training programmes. Beneficiaries can earn one point per quarter, two if several risks factors are combined. These points give them access to training programmes to change careers, rights to work part-time or to additional retirement rights (in accountable trimesters). The measure should be financed by companies’ contributions (a minimum contribution from all businesses and a specific contribution from companies which exceed the annual threshold of exposure to certain risk factors). The implementation of this measure has generated a contentious debate between social partners and with the government leading the Ministry to adopt greater flexibility in the qualifying criteria and extend the implementation schedule.
Finally, the recent creation of the “Generation contracts” (contrats de génération) aims to develop mentoring tasks for older workers. This can be regarded as a way to value the experience of older workers and also to improve skill management and the distribution of tasks in the company. According to sociologist Anne-Marie Guillemard, companies, especially the medium and small ones (fewer than 500 employees), are reluctant to send their older workers for vocational training because management thinks that these employees are less able to learn new technologies and will not use their new skills for a long time. A study looking at professional training of older workers in 1997 and 2006 shows that, except for managers, vocational training of older workers aids less in upgrading their specific professional competencies than for younger workers.
Support to companies
Recent French laws have given many responsibilities to social partners in the implementation of the legislation, for which they were not always prepared. The ANACT (see section 1.2) has therefore set up a number of tools to help companies acknowledge their problems and find potential solutions, and assist them in the negotiations of the company agreements on the employment of older workers, on strenuous working conditions and recently on the Generation Contract:
- These include information tools, such as the online guidelines ‘Pénibilité et usure professionnelle, comment prévenir?’ (How to prevent arduous working conditions and physical strain?) or the platform on age management, that pools information, documentation and tools useful to companies to integrate age management in their HR policies and work organisation. The Agency also proposes trainings for human resources managers and occupational physicians; one of the topics of 2014 trainings is the extension of professional careers and age management.
- The Agency also proposes operational tools, including direct interventions in SMEs or intervention in clusters of companies through TEMPO. This mechanism, created in 2011 and funded by the ESF, aims at helping companies to comply with legal obligations, related to the employment of older workers, the prevention of arduous working conditions, gender equality in the workplace and the Generation contracts. TEMPO was created as a response to the multiplication of obligations for companies, to help them adopt a global approach and find synergies across the different measures. Regional associations, ARACTs, are in charge of setting up ‘social clusters’ composed of seven to ten companies in the same field or geographically close. The agency proposes a number of specific tools to participants to make an assessment of working conditions in their company and to define their action plan on a specific topic. Since the creation of TEMPO, 37 clusters have been created involving 300 companies. A first assessment shows that few participants have dropped out before the end of the work sessions, and that the majority of companies are satisfied.
Regions have one major instrument within their competencies to address the health and safety of older workers, the Regional Plans for Health at Work, implementing the priorities of the National Plan for Health at Work at regional level. Eleven regions have included an objective on health and safety of older worker or on strenuous working conditions. These plans include information and awareness-raising activities for employers and for companies’ Health, Safety and Working Conditions Committee (CHSCT), the collection and dissemination of best practices, assistance to companies with performing a company diagnosis (especially for SMEs), or implementing age or career management strategies. European Funds, in particular the European Social Fund, and EQUAL, have financed many regional projects on age management and the employment of older workers. Many projects funded by ESF focus on education and training. For instance, in Midi pyrénées, the Groupement d’intérêt public (GIP – public interest grouping) on vocational training and professional integration led a project funded by EQUAL, with private partners, tackling different aspects of age management: vocational training, HR practices and health at work. The health component of the project focused on the effect of ageing on health at work and the impacts of physical wear linked to the professional activity on the general health status of the worker. A comparative study on the pressures detrimental to health at work between men and women was developed and a programme providing vocational training and personalised support to older employees has been launched in one hospital of the region.
The network of ARACTs, regional units of the National Agency for the improvement of working conditions, has also been very active.
- The project GPACT (Management of abilities and work capacity), carried out by the CESTP-ARACT Picardie and the occupational medicine of the Aisne region, has developed a diagnostic methodology, based on a pilot in four companies, to assess risks of incapacity and to identify key issues for the retention of workers in employment. The diagnostic is based on several indicators: health of workers, evolution of age pyramids and working conditions. The ARACT proposes to conduct company diagnostics and on this basis of this, develop recommendations for companies to better anticipate changes and manage career and skills.
- The project ‘Innov’Age’ carried out by Aravis Rhône Alpes (part of the ANACT network) in the agro-food sector in Rhône-Alpes assisted companies in leading a demographic assessment to set up an internal age management plan. The second part of the project, conducted by the regional association ‘Moderniser sans Exclure’, led to the creation of three inter-company discussion groups of workers, managers/HR and employees’ representatives to discuss participants’ views of ageing in their company, challenges, barriers for action and opportunities for improvement.
Besides their implication at national level in the definition of labour policy and reforms of pensions, trade unions have a significant role in the financing of vocational training through accredited agencies for the collection and distribution of funds (OPCA). OPCA are managing company contributions to finance vocational training. Among these, the ‘Fonds paritaire de sécurisation des parcours professionnels’ (joint managed Fund to secure professional career paths – FPSPP) can be used to finance professional retraining.
The Fund was created by the national cross-industry agreement of January 2009 on vocational guidance and lifelong learning. Its primary objective is to secure funding for the least qualified workers and unemployed, following the reform of the vocational training system in 2009 aimed at improving the trainings for this targeted audience. The Fund contributes to the funding of vocational training and retraining of workers and unemployed workers, of information platforms on vocational training, and coordinates the network of vocational training institutions. It is managed by employers’ and employees’ trade unions at national and sectoral level. A significant proportion of calls for tenders of the FPSPP, between 15% and 60%, relate to older workers, in particular those directed at encouraging mobility and professional reorientation. The report of the Commission for the future of pensions recommends using part of this funding to prevent strenuous working conditions and support employees that are exposed to arduous working conditions, to increase its impact on the employment of older workers. 3.3 Initiatives by other organisations The Research centre on work experience, age and working populations (Centre de recherches sur l'expérience, l’âge et les populations au travail – CREAPT) conducts specific studies for enterprises and public institutions jointly analysing the demographic evolutions in the populations, in the work, the transformations which take place in companies, and those who affect careers, to favour proactive actions in these domains. Creapt also organises colloquium with scientific institutions and representatives of socioeconomic actors. Creapt is a GIP (grouping of public interest) created in 1991 in order to establish long-term partnership between ministries, companies, universities and research.
- Ministry of Labour, Employment, Vocational training and Social Dialogue, ‘Les orientations retenues par le groupe permanent d’orientation du COCT pour le troisième Plan Santé au Travail (PST3)’: 
- Gollac, M. Guyot S., Volkoff, S., ‘A propos du “travail soutenable”. Les apports du séminaire interdisciplinaire “Emploi soutenable, carrières individuelles et protection sociale’’, 2008: 
- Caron, L., Caser, F., Delgoulet, C., Jolivet, A., Théry, L., Volkoff, S., ‘Les conditions de travail dans les accords et plans d’action « seniors » – Etude pour le Conseil d’Orientation des Conditions de Travail’, Centre d'études de l'emploi, 2012, 89p.
- Les conditions de travail dans les accords et plans d'action « seniors », S. Vollkoff et autres, Rapport au COCT, 2012,  (Accessed December 2014)
- See Dares Study, 2011; Volkoff et a., 2012; Poilpot-Rocaboy, 2013.
- 56% of industry-wide agreements for the employment of older workers and about 53% of company agreements or action plans have included the priority on the ‘Improvement of working conditions and the prevention of arduous working conditions’ according to the Directorate for Research, Studies and Statistics (DARES) of the Ministry of Employment. The ‘Working conditions’ priority comes in 5th position after ‘Skills development and access to vocational training’ (87%), ‘Anticipation of career changes’ (86%), ‘Career management’ (75%) and ‘Transmission of knowledge and skills’ (73%).
- Several studies assessing the results of the company agreements on the employment of older workers have been published in September 2013: - IRES/ANACT, ‘Construction et mise en oeuvre d’accords et plans d’actions en faveur de l’emploi des séniors’, 2013. Available at:  (Accessed December 2014) - Maturescence, ‘L’impact de la prescription législative sur les pratiques RH en direction des séniors’. Rapport de recherche pour la DARES, 2013. Available at:  (Accessed December 2014) - Institut du Travail, Université de Strasbourg, "Accords et plans seniors : quels changements pour 10 entreprises pionnières en Alsace ?", 2013.
- The ministerial order of 14 April 2008 assigns the management of the fund to the ANACT and determines the implementation rules.
- ANACT website: ; Ministère du Travail, de l’Emploi et de la Santé, ‘Conditions de travail, bilan 2011’, 2012, 382 p.  (Accessed December 2014)
- Travailler mieux – la santé et la sécurité au travail, ‘troubles musculo-squelettiques’:  (Accessed December 2014)
- CAT-MP, Nos actions de prévention 2010-2012. Available at:  (Accessed December 214)
- More information on the financial support to SMEs for the prevention of MSDs at:  (Accessed December 2014)
- Moreau, Y., Nos retraites demain: équilibre financier et justice, Commission pour l'avenir des retraites, La Documentation française, 2013, p. 162
- Moreau, Y., ‘Nos retraites demain: équilibre financier et justice’, as above, p. 162.
- Moreau, Y., ‘Nos retraites demain: équilibre financier et justice’, as above, p.157.
- Ministry of Employment: . Moreau, Y., as above, p. 159-160.
- Survey ‘Motivations to retire: stability between 2010 and 2012’, DREES, CNAV, DSS, April 2013
- Anne-Marie Guillemard, les défis du vieillissement – Age, emploi, retraite, perspectives internationales, Armand Colin, 2010.
- More information on the website of the Ministry of Employment:  (Accessed December 2014)
- Moreau, Y., ‘Nos retraites demain: équilibre financier et justice’, Commission pour l'avenir des retraites, La Documentation française, 2013, p. 156.
- More information on the website of the Ministry of Employment:  (Accessed December 2014)
- Conférence national sur l’emploi des seniors, ‘Plan national d’action concerté pour l’emploi des seniors 2006-2010’. Available at:  (Accessed December 2014); Moreau, Y., as above, p.154.
- Loi n° 2013-504 du 14 juin 2013 relative à la sécurisation de l'emploi. Journal Officiel n°0138 du 16 juin 2013. Available at :  (Accessed December 2014).
- More information on the website of the Ministry of employment:  (Accessed December 2014).
- ‘Réforme des retraites: garantir notre système, corriger les injustices’. Press pack, August 2013:  (Accessed December 2014)
- Ministry of Employment:  (Accessed December 2014)
- Anne-Marie Guillemard, Les défis du vieillissement - Age, emploi, retraite, perspectives internationales, Armand Colin, 2010.
- Nathalie Greenan, Mathieu Narcy, Stéphane Robin, Changements dans les entreprises et accès des seniors à la formation continue : une comparaison entre les années 1990 et 2000, document du Centre d'études de l'emploi, Janvier 2013.
- Plateforme Gestion des Ages:  (Accessed December 2014).
- ANACT website:  (Accessed December 2014). ‘Tempo, un mode d’action innovant pour faciliter les négociations’, Travail et changement, May-June 2013:  (Accessed December 2014).
- CESTP-ARACT Picardie:  (Accessed December 2014).
- FPSPP website:  (Accessed December 2014); Moreau, Y., as above, p.156.