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Understanding Health Surveillance

Are you an employee scheduled for a health surveillance appointment at work, but you don’t know why? Or are you the manager attempting to explain what health surveillance is? Dr Bryan Fehilly explains all in our latest blog article.

What Is Health Surveillance?

health surveillanceUnder European and UK legislation, employees who are exposed to certain hazards in the workplace require regular health surveillance. These hazards may include dusts, powders, chemicals, noise, heavy lifting, vibrating equipment, metals and so forth. Regular health surveillance medical examinations can:

  • Detect ill-health effects at an early stage
  • Identify anyone at particular risk of disease
  • Prevent disabling illness/disease
  • Monitor your existing control measures
  • Protect the health of employees

Explaining Health Surveillance Records

It’s important that an organisation’s COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health 2002) assessment and any other relevant risk assessments are made available to us prior to the commencement of a health surveillance programme. This will support us in understanding what risks and hazards are present in the workplace and therefore enable us to design your health surveillance programme appropriately.

We have a tiered system of screening. This is initially a paper screen with appropriate progression to face-to-face screening by a clinician. Every worker who needs health surveillance will have a health record made as part of this process. The health record is important because it provides a written record of:

  • The nature of work that has or will result in exposure to a specific workplace health hazard (e.g. noise or dust).
  • The outcome of any previous health surveillance.

A health record is different to a clinical record and doesn’t include confidential clinical data. This may be required by the Health & Safety Executive during an investigation or similar. A health record should be maintained for as long as the person is employed. You may need to retain health records for up to 50 years, but this depends on specific legislation (e.g. asbestos).

The Health and Safety Executive requires that a health (surveillance) record of the outcome and fitness of all screened employees is kept by management. Consequently, an outcome report may include include specific advice to employers and employees. Some legislation (e.g. that applying to asbestos or lead) requires very specific health surveillance which must be under the direct supervision of a HSE appointed doctor.

Who Undertakes Health Surveillance?

We employ a number of occupational health professionals who are trained to undertake routine medicals and health surveillance.

Occupational Health Advisors
Occupational Health Advisors are registered nurses who independently observe and assess the worker’s health status with respect to job tasks and hazards. Using their specialised experience and education, these nurses will recognise and offer advice/guidance to prevent health effects resulting from hazardous exposures. On occasion further advice may be sought from an Occupational Health Physician.

Occupational Health Technicians
An Occupational Health Technician has a level of knowledge and skills in the recognition of the influence of work on employee’s health. They will work under professional supervision and guidance of established protocols and procedures in undertaking health surveillance. On occasion further advice may be sought from an Occupational Health Physician.

Occupational Health Physicians
An Occupational Health Physician (doctor) has a qualification in occupational medicine which is recognised by the Faculty of Occupational Medicine. They will have particular competencies, acquired through postgraduate training and experience.

BHSF Newhall Medical Practice delivers a wide variety of health surveillance in response to exposure from certain hazards, which includes:

  • Hearing tests for exposure to noise at work
  • Hand arm vibration surveillance for exposure to vibration at work
  • Skin surveillance for exposure to chemicals or other irritant agents at work
  • Respiratory surveillance for exposure to air-borne substances at work

If you would like to discuss your organisations health surveillance requirements, please contact us.