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Workplace Exposure - Part 1 of 3: Health Surveillance

Almost all industrious workplaces, whether it be in construction or an automotive repair workshop, require employees to be exposed to hazardous conditions or materials. In an ideal world there would be no need for these exposures however sometimes these just cannot be avoided. So, when this is the case, employers need to take serious steps into controlling these exposures to ensure that they are not having adverse affects on people’s health. One of the tools used to do so is known as health surveillance. This is where elements of a person’s health is monitored in various ways in order to determine if exposures such as vibration, noise, COSHH etc, are causing health issues.

Most employers in an industrious trade will have at least heard of health surveillance, or, have an active health surveillance programme in place. The worrying thing is that there is a common misconception that by having health surveillance in place you have met your obligations, and there is no further actions required, this quite simply is false! The purpose of health surveillance is purely to monitor health, and raise a red flag when there are signs that health is deteriorating. This would then require further investigations through referrals to medical professionals, and would be an indicator that there may be a failure in your control measures that requires addressing.

Health surveillance can be carried out in a number or different ways and usually has an escalation measure, for example the Tier system used for HAVS (I will cover this further in part 2). Methods can vary from internal self assessment questionnaires, internal checks and formal appointments with an occupational health specialist.

Health surveillance is not a perk or a benefit; it is a control measure in place because the tasks undertaken in the workplace expose employees to conditions that cause ill health. With that said, it is best to start the health surveillance programme at the very beginning of employment. This can usually be done by a baseline medical questionnaire, this will give you an indication of the employees existing health before joining your business and a bench mark to go off. From here, periodic and reactive health surveillance can be provided on a risk based basis.

To sum up, health surveillance is an invaluable tool in protecting the workforce from ill health but only if used in conjunction with further investigation of the control measures in place. There is lots of great information and guidance available on the HSE website.

If you are concerned or have any queries related to health surveillance in your work place then please feel free to get in touch with any team member at KVF Consultants and we will be happy to assist.

Jamie McPhie, TechIOSH

KVF Senior H&S Advisor

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