Health Surveillance at Work


Health surveillance is a procedure required by law to be performed in certain industries and workplaces where after all risks have been considered and steps taken to reduce them, there is still a considerable danger for employees in doing their job. Essentially it is a system of ongoing health checks designed to prevent and detect any potential problems in their early stages.

It is stipulated that any health surveillance should be risk assessment based and should represent the last measure to monitor and prevent work related diseases. It should not be confused or taken as a substitute for risk assessments or other safety controls and actions aimed to reduce risks at the workplace. It is also quite useful for providing information about necessary additional training, the introduction of new work procedures which would reduce costs, enabling employees to raise concerns about the health consequences of their job etc.

Generally health surveillance is required in activities where there is a risk of noise or vibration, solvents, fumes, dusts, biological agents, asbestos, lead or work in compressed air, ionizing radiation. Duty holders involved in chemical, construction, manufacturing, agriculture, mining, offshore or any other industry where highly harmful materials are used should consider putting in place additional health checks. If you are not sure about if it applies to your business activity please seek competent advice.

Anyhow, there are three basic legal requirements and in the cases where the three of them are met, health surveillance should be introduced:

Number one; there is an identifiable disease and there is firm evidence that it is linked with workplace exposure.

Number two; there is a possibility for the disease to occur.

Number three; the techniques used to determine the first two points are valid and do not pose a risk to employees.

The risk assessment you have performed would give you clues about what kind of health surveillance would be appropriate for your business.

The first and simplest measure would be for employees to check themselves for signs or symptoms of ill health, obviously after the correct training for the specific diseases has taken place. Based on the risk assessment and the type of risk, a responsible person (employee, supervisor or first aider, always somebody with basic training who would know what kind of symptoms to search for) could perform routine inspections of the employees. In workplaces with higher risk for ill health a more competent person such as nurse or occupational health doctor should carry out periodic examinations.

In industries where work with high hazard substances is involved the law requires statutory medical surveillance including examinations and tests by doctors with specific training and experience, usually appointed by the HSE. This is a legal requirement for workplaces with certain exposure, such as some type of work with asbestos, work with lead, substances subject to Schedule 6 of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (used in transport, manufacturing, production, storage, use of polymerisation etc.), ionizing radiation (occurs from the radioactive decay of natural radioactive substances) and work in compressed air.

If you are performing health surveillance in your company you should keep records of all actions performed to prevent ill health. Usually a suitable copy of these health records should be kept for at least 40 years from the date of last entry, as when working with dangerous substances the disease could occur long after the exposure.

It is important to know when and what kind of health surveillance is required and if any at all for your type of work activity. There are many situations where companies are over-complying. Incurring unnecessary costs is not the aim of these regulations, so performing a good risk assessment and informing yourself about the legal requirements for your line of work is essential.

Source by Nessie E Valtcheva

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