Psychosocial Factors in Control Activities. Identification and Evaluation of Impact
Key words: psychosocial factors; stress at work; early manifestation; cognitive functions; behaviour; emotions; somatic complaints; task requirements; organizational factors; occupational factors; labour inspectors
The psychosocial factors (PSFs) are leading among the new risks and modern challenges in providing safety and health at work. Labour inspectors work in an environment characterized by marked pressure ensuing from the high expectations of society regarding the results of their activities. Due to the high mental strain, the profession of labour inspector is one of those at highest risk for occurrence of stress at work as a result of PSF impact.
The aim of the present study was to identify the leading PSFs in control activities, rate them on the basis of their significance and investigate the subjective perception of the implications of mental strain at work for the cognitive functions, emotional reactions, behavioral manifestations and health (somatic) complaints of staff members.
Contingent and Methods
The present study is a cross-sectional exhaustive study based on a direct group questionnaire. It involved 545 staff members – men and women aged 24 to 66, including labour inspectors, assistant labour inspectors and managing staff of the General Labour Inspectorate Executive Agency.
The questionnaire was worked out for the purposes of the study and included 80 questions/statements grouped as follows:
- groups of questions identifying PSFs at work in accordance with the EN ISO 10075-1 Bulgarian State Standard - Ergonomic principies related to mental work-load – Part 1: “task requirements” (nature and content of work activity); “physical work environment”, “social and organizational factors”;
- groups of questions regarding the subjective evaluation of the impact of mental stress, distributed in the four aspects of occupational stress manifestation - alteration in cognitive functions, behaviour, emotions and somatic complaints.
The questionnaire was worked out on the basis of results from previous studies on risk evaluation, workplace ergonomics and perception of stress at work. The answers were rated using a 1-to-4 rating scale from “never” to “all the time”.
The statistical processing of data were analysed with the SPSS software version 17 involving the following parametric methods: analysis of variance, analysis of alternatives, dispersion analysis (one-way ANOVA) and correlation analysis; single factor and multiple factor logistic regressions, as well as non-parametric methods.
The significance level of the null hypothesis was accepted to be P<0.05.
To identify the groups at risk in the General Labour Inspectorate, all results from the study were interpreted in groups distributed according to gender, age and work experience.
The significant psychosocial factors determining the mental overload of government staff performing control activities were identified by means of single-factor and multiple-factor analyses.
The groups were rated according to their statistical significance as follows: PSFs from the Task Requirements (TR) group in the first place, followed by PSFs from the Organizational Factors (OF) group, followed by PSFs from the Physical Work Environment (PWE) group.
Major sources of mental overload from the different groups were as follows:
- from the TR group – “high concentration at work required”, “work under conditions of time deficit”, “emotional overload resulting from contacts with employers and their representatives”, etc.;
- from the OF group – “insufficient provision of information concerning events at the Inspectorate”, “showing preferences over certain colleagues”, etc.;
- from the PWE group – “non-ergonomic working posture while using a laptop”, “possible dangerous situations while performing control activities”, etc.
We studied the relationship between mental overload, mental strain and its effects (positive – stimulating and short-term (reversible) negative effects). The correlation analysis found out a relationship between the leading PSFs at work and the evaluation on the part of the staff members of the impact of these factors on cognitive functions, emotional reactions, behavioral changes and health-related complaints.
The staff members assessed the impact of PSFs from the different groups (PWE, TR and OF) as follows: greatest influence was exerted by TR (considerable effect for the cognitive, emotional and behavioral manifestations, and a moderate one for the health-related problems; with respect to the other groups, a moderate effect of OF was found, and a mild one of PWE.
The rating according to the extent of impact was as follows:
- task requirements exerted greatest effect on cognitive functions, followed by altered emotional reactions and behaviour and health-related complaints.
- organizational factors exerted greatest effect on emotional reactions, followed by altered behaviour and cognitive functions and health-related complaints;
- physical conditions at work /work environment factors/ exerted greatest effect on health (somatic complaints), followed by alteration in cognitive functions, emotional reactions, and behaviour.
Our study involved assessment of the impact of leading PSFs from the Task Requirements group, as it was evaluated by inspectors belonging to different age groups and different professional experience groups.
A significant difference was found in the evaluation of young people (aged 30 and less), as compared to the remaining age groups with regard to the nature and content of the task, which is due to the fact that the tasks assigned to younger members of the staff involved preparation of check-ups, review of previous protocols and ordinances, etc., and not complex cases associated with control activities.
As far as professional experience was concerned, largest number of answers “frequently” and “all the time” (answers testifying strain at work), were given by staff members of the General Labour Inspectorate Executive Agency, having from 11 - 20 years of work experience at the Agency, followed by those with 6 -10 years of professional experience.
The mean value of TR impact increased with age, being greatest in staff members aged 51 – 60, followed by those aged 41- 50.
Staff members aged 51 – 60 provided the largest number of negative assessments of the impact of leading PSFs from the TR group on cognitive functions, emotional reactions, behavioral changes and somatic complaints. This is probably due to their long years of work experience, their daily overload, as well as their responsibilities as heads of teams performing control activities.
These are the groups at risk, and preventive measures to reduce stress and strain resulting from PSFs at work should be directed mostly to them – not only at an organizational measure level, but also at an individual level, i.e. way of life, control of bad habits, regular and more frequent health monitoring, expanded prophylactic examinations package, evaluation of risk for coronary heart disease, etc.
PSFs in control activities, being sources of mental overload at work, were rated by our study according to their impact in the following way: PSFs from the Task Requirements group took the first place, followed by PSFs from the Organizational Factors group, and then PSFs from the Physical Work Environment group. Major sources of mental overload from the different groups were “higher concentration at work required”, “work under conditions of time deficit”, “emotional overload resulting from contacts with employers and their representatives”, “insufficient provision of information concerning events at the Inspectorate”, “showing preference over certain colleagues”, “non-ergonomic working posture while using a laptop”, “possible dangerous situations while performing control activities”. The chain “mental overload – mental strain – consequences” was studied, involving evaluation of the alterations in cognitive functions, emotional reactions and behaviour, as well as somatic complaints, brought about by PSFs. The task requirements were found to exert greatest effect on cognitive functions; the organizational factors produced greatest effect on emotional reactions; the physical conditions at work /work environment factors/ had greatest effect on health (somatic complaints). The analysis of the results showed significant differences among the staff of the General Labour Inspectorate, based on gender, age and professional experience. At risk groups were identified and a Preventive Programme for Control of Work-Related PSFs was developed.