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

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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.




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).

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