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Health surveillance: What is it and how can it help my business?

Health surveillance involves gathering medical information from your workers, to uncover any health issues that make them particularly vulnerable whilst at work. Although any credible employer will have a work surveillance system in place, occasionally things slip through the cracks. Health surveillance can prevent this from happening, by identifying any possible health issues before they become a problem.

23 May 2019

For a business to succeed it needs to take care of its most important asset: its employees. Health surveillance is a practice of ongoing health checks, and it’s a good way to ensure your team remain healthy.

Health surveillance involves gathering medical information from your workers, to uncover any health issues that make them particularly vulnerable whilst at work. Although any credible employer will have a work surveillance system in place, occasionally things slip through the cracks. Health surveillance can prevent this from happening, by identifying any possible health issues before they become a problem.

In particular, health surveillance is important for:
• Establishing a baseline for an employee’s health, so employers can be made aware of any deterioration to a worker’s wellbeing
• Spotting the signs of ill-health at an early stage, to prevent the condition from worsening
• Providing companies with useful data to evaluate health risks
• Allowing employees to discuss concerns about how the workplace affects their health
• Calling attention to lapses in workplace control measures
• Ensuring staff training is relevant and up to date.

Health surveillance reviews can be conducted by occupational health specialists such as physicians, advisors or technicians, as long as they have the necessary expertise and possess an understanding of the working environment. Employees who have received the appropriate training can also perform them.

So, do I need it?

If your staff are regularly surrounded by loud noise, fumes, dust, substances or other hazards, then you are required by law to have a rolling system of checks in place to protect them. Health surveillance just takes this to the next level, reviewing elements that may seem harmless, but could one day impact the health of your employees. Depending on the nature of your business, you may also be legally obligated to undertake health surveillance measures on top of the usual health and safety procedures. Conducting a risk assessment for the work your employees undertake will also help establish if health surveillance is required for your team.

Even if it’s not a legal obligation for your business, health surveillance can pinpoint threats you may have missed, as well as protect employees who are at an increased risk from known dangers.

Health surveillance processes can include, but are not limited to:
• Skin examinations for employees handling toxic substances
• Full-body vibration tests for staff working in noisy environments
• Lung function tests for those at risk of breathing in fine particles
• Vision tests for display screen equipment work
• Industry-specific health questionnaires.

Although not a replacement for important health and safety procedures such as eliminating risks, it provides an extra layer of protection for your employees. Health surveillance can show how effective your current health and safety measures really are, and if any changes need to be made.

How can it benefit my employees?

If an issue does arise, health surveillance can catch it early on, preventing the condition from developing further.

Along with helping to safeguard your team’s health, health surveillance gives your employees the opportunity to voice any concerns they may have. This could draw attention to any gaps in workplace control measures, providing vital feedback for risk assessments, as well as making your team feel safe and supported.

Finally, health surveillance can pinpoint any additional training your staff require, or areas that need refreshing, preventing accidents or illness in the future.

Once you’ve identified which employees require health surveillance, a medical assessment needs to be conducted to provide a baseline. Testing should then be performed annually, or as often as an occupational health specialist recommends, to pick up any trends or changes to an employee’s health and to ensure a healthy and productive staff for years to come.

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