Workers are faced with a variety of hazards: not only exposure to biological, physical or chemical agents, but also the effects of different work organisation methods. Given the time spent at work by much of the population, occupational health is a key topic in public health. ANSES's activities in this field focus on major emerging risks to workers' health and also address the strategic themes of the National Occupational Health Plan (PST3 – 2016-2020). Here, ANSES is playing a leading role in advancing knowledge, and is contributing to risk assessment work that will ultimately serve as the basis for occupational risk prevention.
What health risks can be encountered in the workplace?
There are numerous risks, which may be associated with exposure to:
- biological agents, such as viruses or bacteria in the context of medical activities, for example;
- physical agents, such as noise, UV radiation or radio frequencies;
- chemicals of varying complexity, such as pesticides, nanoparticles, solvents or cleaning products, etc;
- work organisation methods, such as night work or jobs related to new information and communication technologies (ICT).
This exposure varies greatly from one sector to another, mainly due to the specific constraints inherent to each occupation, or to organisational methods chosen in most cases to meet economic constraints.
They can cause different kinds of health effects, either short-term (acute poisoning, accidents, etc.) or more or less long-term for individuals (cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, asthma, psychological disorders, etc.), and may even involve their descendants (malformations, etc.).
Moreover, situations of multiple exposure are often observed in many sectors. This question is a major challenge for all those working in the field of occupational health and prevention: a challenge as regards knowledge of exposure, as well as a methodological challenge for risk assessment. In this context, it is important to fully understand what the job actually involves and the conditions in which it is performed in order to be able to characterise this exposure in as much detail as possible.
Occupational health: What is ANSES's role?
ANSES's mission is to provide the authorities with the information needed for making decisions on occupational risk prevention and to support the main public policies in this area. To do this, the Agency contributes to the production of knowledge on hazards, exposure and risk assessment.
Monitoring and vigilance
ANSES carries out monitoring and vigilance activities in order to anticipate emerging risks as early as possible. As part of this, the Agency coordinates the National Network for Monitoring and Prevention of Occupational Diseases (RNV3P), a network of occupational health professionals that includes the 30 occupational disease clinics (CCPP) (PDF) in metropolitan France and the overseas territories. Every year about 30,000 medical consultations are recorded. The data collected are used to identify occupational health risk situations in France, improve their prevention, and guide expert appraisal and research work.
Collective expert appraisals for health risk assessment
Every year, ANSES also carries out a number of collective expert appraisals on specific situations in different sectors, such as air pollution in underground railway areas, excess mortality in sewer workers, exposure of agricultural workers to pesticides, health risks associated with night work and atypical working hours and the risks associated with products used in nail care activities. The Agency has also conducted a major expert appraisal on the risks to worker health posed by climate change, as part of a proactive approach.
Assessments in the context of national or European regulations
The expert appraisals and knowledge produced by the Agency are useful for developing and implementing national and European regulations. In particular, ANSES draws up recommendations enabling the public authorities to set occupational exposure limits (OELs), which are used for the atmospheric monitoring of occupational exposure and the prevention of chemical risks. As part of this, several substances have undergone expert appraisals with the aim of setting atmospheric limit values. The Agency also carries out assessments in the context of implementation of the European REACh, Plant Protection Products and Biocides regulations, in which occupational exposure is systematically taken into account.
Funding of research
To obtain the scientific knowledge needed to conduct these risk assessments, whether on hazards or exposure, ANSES is also instrumental in supporting occupational health research. For example, the Agency manages the National Research Programme for Environmental and Occupational Health (PNR EST), with financial support from the Ministries of Labour and the Environment. Each year, more than six million euros are mobilised to fund research projects through two calls for projects. These research projects, which focus on the themes of environmental health and occupational health, contribute to the production of knowledge that is essential for expert appraisals of workplace risks.
To find out more about occupational health research projects, read the issue of "Les Cahiers de la Recherche" on occupational health (in French)