At-risk and intervention thresholds of occupational stress using a visual analogue scale

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Abstract

Background The visual analogue scale (VAS) is widely used in clinical practice by occupational physicians to assess perceived stress in workers. However, a single cut-off (black-or-white decision) inadequately discriminates between workers with and without stress. We explored an innovative statistical approach to distinguish an at-risk population among stressed workers, and to establish a threshold over which an action is urgently required, via the use of two cutoffs. Methods Participants were recruited during annual work medical examinations by a random sample of workers from five occupational health centres. We previously proposed a single cut-off of VAS stress in comparison with the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS14). Similar methodology was used in the current study, along with a gray zone approach. The lower limit of the gray zone supports sensitivity ("at-risk" threshold; interpreted as requiring closer surveillance) and the upper limit supports specificity (i.e. "intervention" threshold-emergency action required). Results We included 500 workers (49.6% males), aged 40±11 years, with a PSS14 score of 3.8±1.4 and a VAS score of 4.0±2.4. Using a receiver operating characteristic curve and the PSS cut-off score of 7.2, the optimal VAS threshold was 6.8 (sensitivity = 0.89, specificity = 0.87). The lower and upper thresholds of the gray zone were 5 and 8.2, respectively. Conclusions We identified two clinically relevant cut-offs on the VAS of stress: a first cut-off of 5.0 for an at-risk population, and a second cut-off of 8.2 over which an action is urgently required. Future investigations into the relationships between this upper threshold and deleterious events are required.

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Dutheil, F., Pereira, B., Moustafa, F., Naughton, G., Lesage, F. X., & Lambert, C. (2017). At-risk and intervention thresholds of occupational stress using a visual analogue scale. PLoS ONE, 12(6). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0178948

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