Occupational Health Surveillance

Let's Talk About Occupational Health Surveillance

Posted By Kerry Budworth on 2016-01-17 14:12

What is Occupational Health Surveillance?

Occupational health has moved it's focus from the treatment of occupational disease to the prevention of it in the first place. As part of this fundamental change in outlook it was realised that monitoring the health of the workforce on an ongoing basis could lead to early intervention and prevention. That in essence is what occupational health surveillance is all about, ongoing monitoring of the workforce for prevention of occupational disease. As an occupational health surveillance provider, we offer many occupational health surveillance services

A system of ongoing health checks

Occupational health surveillance is a system of ongoing health checks of your employees at prescribed times. Some of these health checks are required by law, for instance for employees who are exposed to noise or vibration, ionising radiation, solvents, fumes, dusts, biological agents and other substances hazardous to health, or work in compressed air.

What can occupational health surveillance do?

Health surveillance can lead to many advantageous results for your business, most important among them is the following:

  • Occupational health surveillance can detect ill-health effects at an early stage, so you can introduce better controls to prevent them getting worse
  • It can provide data to help you evaluate health risks within your business
  • It will enable employees to raise concerns about how work affects their health
  • It can highlight lapses in workplace control measures, providing invaluable feedback to your risk assessment
  • It can provide an opportunity to reinforce training and education of employees (eg on the impact of health effects and the use of protective equipment)

Occupational health surveillance & your risk assessment

Your risk assessment should be used to identify any need for health surveillance of your employees. Occupational health surveillance is not a substitute for undertaking a risk assessment or putting in place effective controls of risk. However, sometimes occupational health surveillance can identify where more action needs to be taken to control risks.  

Occupational health surveillance is a legal requirement

Occupational health surveillance is a particular legal requirement within some industries. There are particular medical checks that have been proscribed by legislation, these do not cover the following :

  • activities to monitor health where the effects from work are strongly suspected but cannot be established
  • workplace wellbeing checks, such as promoting healthy living
  • fitness to work examinations eg fitness to dive, operate cranes, forklift trucks or health assessments requested by night employees

What are occupational health surveillance tests?

Occupational health surveillance test are varied from industry to industry and risk to risk. For instance lung function tests and biological monitoring would be a strong component of health surveillance within the spray paint industry. The actual tests undertaken are based on the risk assessment, in this way resources are guarded and money is not spent on testing that is not needed. 

Do I need occupational health surveillance?

The answer to this question can be found in your risk assessment. Hopefully your risk assessment will have identified all of the hazards in your workplace, who is at risk and the measures you can take to control the risks. Where some risk remains and there is likely to be harm caused to your employees, you will need to take further steps. You should strongly consider occupational health surveillance if your employees are at risk from:

  • noise or vibration
  • solvents, dusts, fumes, biological agents and other substances hazardous to health
  • asbestos, lead or work in compressed air
  • ionising radiation

In the case of these particular hazards control measures may not always be reliable, despite appropriate checking and maintenance. It therefore makes sense to introduce health surveillance in order that any ill health is detected early. Health surveillance is required if all the following HSE criteria are met:

  • there is an identifiable disease/adverse health effect and evidence of a link with workplace exposure
  • it is likely the disease/health effect may occur
  • there are valid techniques for detecting early signs of the disease/health effect
  • these techniques do not pose a risk to employees

What sort of health surveillance do I need?

Again, this is based on the results of your risk assessment. Where your risk assessment has identified the need to implement health surveillance, you will need to put into place a programme that adequately addresses the risks and potential ill-health effects your employees may be exposed to.

HSE provides a range of industry-specific guidance and much of this includes advice on which jobs may require health surveillance and what you need to do in response. There are also a number of high-hazard substances or agents where the law requires that the health surveillance programme includes statutory medical surveillance. Statutory medical surveillance involves a medical examination and possibly tests by a doctor with appropriate training and experience. The doctor must have been appointed by HSE.

Medical surveillance is a legal requirement for the following workplace exposures:

  • particular types of work with asbestos
  • work with lead
  • work with those substances hazardous to health that are subject to Schedule 6 of The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002
  • work with ionising radiation
  • work in compressed air

If you have any questions about occupational health surveillance services in the UK, or you are looking for health and safety services in Leicester or across the UK, don't hesitate to call us on 01455 234 600 or contact us online. 

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