Yesterday I went to my second, biennial visit to the “Médecine du travail”, or Occupational Health Specialist.
My first appointment wasn’t so great. I didn’t really speak french, so the dialog between me and the doctor was very difficult. I understood the basic questions: Does your head hurt? Does your neck hurt? Do your wrists hurt? etc. But when it came to the phrase “Please remove your pants* and stand in the corner.” I was sure that I’d misheard her. The rest of that interaction was a little bit awkward.
This year I was ready. I even considered ironing my boxers for the presentation, but thought that it might lead to a psychological assessment post evaluation. The appointment went smoothly, and at the end she smiled, handed me a piece of paper ranking my state of health, and said “Pour un developer, vous etes sante.”
“For a developer, you are healthy.”
Thanks, I guess. I don’t know how much lower that bar is, but I managed to scrape over it with nothing more than an ‘Ooh la la’ when I told her how much coffee I drink. In any case, I took my certificate of underachievement back to the office, and I’m able to continue my work for the next two years with the assurance that I am, in fact, “Apt”.
This whole ritual seemed totally bizarre, and exceptionally French, when I first went through it two years earlier. Why should I have to prove that I’m healthy? Shouldn’t I be able to work regardless of my ability? After some time to better understand the way of thinking over here, I’m actually really happy to see this kind of system in place.
The real focus of the Médecine du travail is to evaluate the occupational health and well being of an employee, and the relative working conditions that the employer provides. The benefits to all parties actually seem pretty great when I think about them.
For the state, it’s much more economically efficient to invest in preventative maintenance and early detection than to have to pay out higher benefits – either through the medical or the welfare system – only after something goes wrong.
For the employer, it’s nice to have access to state funded occupational safety experts who can provide consulting services on how to better layout your workplace. I imagine that regular check-ups also serve to reduce the number of work related health and safety lawsuits that a company has to deal with.
For the employee, regular checkups help to detect gradual deterioration problems that they might not be aware of. It also provides a way for an employee to privately raise an health issue to someone that has the authority to mandate a change in the workplace. One of my colleagues once told me the story of when he first told his Médecine du travail that he suffered from pain in his neck. Within a week, the employer had purchased, and reconfigured, a new workstation for him to help avoid worsening the problem. He was also prescribed phyisotherapy to help treat the problem before it became debilitating.
After some reflection, I think that my original ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it mentality that I developed in North America has changed slightly. The let’s-make-sure-it-doesn’t-break idea seems like it would work just as effectively, if not more so. Also, speaking as a resource, I prefer the idea that I am considered as something to be maintained and repaired instead of worn out and replaced.
* Note: I have since told this story to many people, several of whom are British by birth. After getting a lot of strange looks, I discovered a small British-ism that I was previously unaware of. Apparently the word pants in North America, and in France, means the “long pieces of cloth that cover your legs”. The British call these things trousers, and reserve the use of the word pants for when they are talking about underwear.