Reconfiguration of the boundaries of occupational risk prevention observed during the COVID-19 pandemic : the case of personal protective equipment and collective protection in France

Thomas Bonnet, Eric Drais, Mireille Lapoire-Chasset, Julie Primerano et Karen Rossignol

Article de Thomas Bonnet, Eric Drais, Mireille Lapoire-Chasset, Julie Primerano et Karen Rossignol in Health, Risk & Society, vol. 23, issue 7-8, 2021.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, national risk management scenarios took an unexpected course at different individual and collective scales. In France, in the field of occupational risk, long-established practices, rules, and categories have been disturbed and placed ‘under stress’. The field of prevention of occupational risk, which has constituted a distinct field in health policies, with its own bodies, missions and approaches, was similarly disturbed.

To describe and analyse these social phenomena, we propose using two complementary concepts : the British ‘risk work’ and the French ‘prevention work’ [‘travail de prévention’]. We show some of the empirical manifestations of risk work associated with prevention work and their effects on the boundaries instituted in the field of prevention at work.

Our investigation used data from documentation and interviews in order to explore the experiences of two categories of professionals – physicians specialising in occupational health and home care aides – concerned with prevention during an acute phase of the pandemic. We point out that the question of protective means and equipment has been a central issue, in a context characterised by tensions between knowledge and available material resources.

We also show that contradictions and points of tension between actors reveal the subjects under discussion and the more or less porous nature of the boundaries. Amid these processes, however, the principles underlying occupational health were reaffirmed, along with the need for a cooperation between workers and prevention professionals.

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