What is Health Surveillance?

Health Surveillance is a system of ongoing health checks. These health checks may be required by law for employees who are exposed to certain risk factors during the course of doing their jobs.

These can include but are not limited to things like noise or vibration, ionising radiation, solvents, fumes, dusts, biological agents and other substances hazardous to health, or work in compressed air.

Health Surveillance is a legal requirement and should not be confused with:

  • Activities to monitor health where the effects from work are strongly suspected but cannot be established
  • Workplace well-being checks, such as promoting healthy living
  • Fitness to work examinations e.g. fitness to dive, operate cranes, forklift trucks or health assessments requested by night employees

Health Surveillance is important for:

  • Detecting ill-health effects at an early stage, so employers can introduce better controls to prevent them from getting worse
  • Providing data to help employers evaluate health risks
  • enabling employees to raise concerns about how work affects their health
  • Highlighting lapses in workplace control measures, therefore providing invaluable feedback to the risk assessment
  • Providing an opportunity to reinforce training and education of employees (e.g. on the impact of health effects and the use of protective equipment)

Health surveillance can sometimes be used to help identify where more needs to be done to control risks and where early signs of work-related ill health are detected, employers should take action to prevent further harm and protect employees. 

Do I need Health Surveillance?

The starting point is your risk assessment. Through this you will have found out the hazards in your workplace, identified who is at risk and taken measures to do something to control the risks.

Where some risk remains and there is likely to be harm caused to your employees, you will need to take further steps.

If there is still a risk to health after the implementation of all reasonable precautions, you may need to put a health surveillance programme in place.

The Legal Requirement

It is essential that employers adopt robust and legally compliant health surveillance programmes to protect their staff.

Delivering a health surveillance programme to workers exposed to workplace hazards, and to those at risk of developing occupationally induced diseases and conditions, is a fundamental and integral part of any OH service.

Employers do not always recognise the legal requirements of their duty of care under s.2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974), namely that employees have the right to believe that attending work will not be harmful to them and that the employer is able to ensure (at a mutually agreed level) that their health is protected while they are at work.

The legislation is clear and directs the employer to its responsibility in making suitable and sufficient risk assessments of any health and safety hazards of which their employees could be exposed to while they are at work (Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999: reg.3).

The only reliable method for establishing whether or not health is being affected by the hazard is by monitoring and assessing the employees exposed to such hazards through adequate and appropriate health surveillance programmes.

In the absence of health surveillance, there would be no way to determine whether or not ill health had occurred.

If an occupationally induced condition is later confirmed by a diagnosis, the employer may have failed in its duty of care to protect its workforce and could face the risk of legal action through both the criminal and civil courts.

When to conduct Assessments

Health surveillance conducted at the commencement of employment or exposure to any work-related hazard is sensible.

This allows a baseline to be established and identifies any personal contributing factors that could increase an employee’s risk of developing any conditions.

Consideration of lifestyle activities and any pre-existing health conditions should be explored. When the assessment identifies that an employee has an increased risk of the condition developing, the employer should consider increasing the frequency of health assessments.

A standardised method of delivering health surveillance is essential, allows a consistent approach and reduces the risk of subjectivity when interpreting the results. Clinicians delivering this service should have appropriate training and ensure that the methodology used in the assessment process is consistent throughout.

Identified changes in an employee’s health should be investigated further, and when a definitive diagnosis is needed then more specialist advice should be sought.

Whenever possible, it may be sensible to conduct a health surveillance assessment when an employee is leaving the company. This is of particular importance when noise-induced hearing loss monitoring programmes have been implemented.

If an employee has demonstrated that their level of hearing was at a recorded level upon leaving the business, it would be difficult to imply blame later if they were to subsequently develop noise-induced hearing loss.

Why choose to work with ARC

It is essential that the health surveillance process be conducted in the correct manner to ensure that the results provided to both the employer and employees are legally defensible.

ARC has been been providing medical services to the Rail and Construction industries (amongst others) for a number of years and we are fully aware of the need to get things right.

With an online form, completing the health surveillance questionnaire could not be easier or more convenient, with submissions being reviewed and reported back to the employer quickly.

Our staff are well trained and professional, so you can rest assured that your companies medical needs are in safe hands.

The next step

Simply give us a call and speak to one of our knowledgeable medical advisors who will answer any questions that you may have and quickly help to put a health surveillance program in place for you.