What is health surveillance and is it required in your workplace?

As part of our occupational health services to businesses across the UK, the Fusion team help organisations to establish comprehensive health surveillance programmes.

But what exactly is health surveillance? And if your business doesn’t have such a programme, should it?

Health surveillance can help to detect the early effects of ill-health

What is health surveillance?

It is essentially a system of ongoing health checks.

For employees who are exposed to noise or vibration, ionising radiation, solvents, fumes, dust, biological agents and other substances hazardous to health, or work in compressed air, these health checks may be required by law.

Why is it so important?

Health surveillance can help to detect the effects of ill-health amongst employees at an early stage. This allows employers to introduce better controls to prevent them getting worse.

They also provide data to help employers evaluate health risks and allow employees the opportunity to raise concerns about how work affects their health.

By highlighting lapses in workplace control measures, it can provide invaluable feedback to a company’s risk assessment.

This process also gives organisations an opportunity to reinforce the training and education of employees on everything from the impact of health effects to the use of protective equipment.

What’s the health surveillance process?

The process is based on the health surveillance cycle, which gives the employer a central role, with involvement from employees to ensure effective implementation.

Health surveillance cycle

It’s important to remember that health surveillance is not a substitute for a risk assessment - a company’s risk assessment should be used to identify if there's any need for it.

Using this approach, a business can sometimes identify where more needs to be done to control risks and detect early signs of work-related ill health.

Top tips for employers

When putting a programme in place, you should remember to avoid blanket coverage for all employees as it can provide misleading results and waste money.

Also, health surveillance is a particular legal requirement and should not be confused with:

  • activities to monitor health where the effects of work are strongly suspected but cannot be established
  • workplace wellbeing checks, such as promoting healthy living
  • fitness-to-work examinations, e.g. fitness to operate machinery or health assessments requested by night employees

Is health surveillance required in your workplace?

The starting point for answering this question is in your risk assessment.

This will have highlighted the hazards in your workplace, identified who is at risk and taken measures to do something to control the risks.

Where risk remains and harm might be caused to employees, further steps will need to be taken.

Health surveillance is required by law for people who are exposed to noise or vibration

You should consider health surveillance if your employees are at risk from:

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

What next?

If a risk assessment shows that you need to implement health surveillance, you will need to put a programme in place that addresses the risks involved.

In its simplest form, it could involve training employees to check themselves for signs or symptoms of ill health.

For more complicated assessments, an occupational health specialist can ask about symptoms or carry out periodic examinations.

If you’d like to find out how the specialist team at Fusion could help you to implement a health surveillance programme, contact us today.

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Categories: EmployeesHealth SurveillanceOccupational HealthSupport

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