How to set up an effective health surveillance programme with occupational health support

What is a health surveillance programme?

As an employer you should have an ongoing health surveillance scheme if an identifiable disease or health effect may be linked to the exposure at work. This is a programme of regular health checks which are used to identify at an early stage if an employee’s health is being adversely affected by their work.

It also helps identify individuals who have an underlying health condition that may be made worse by the work they do, so that additional measures can be put in place to keep them safe.

Health surveillance is a legal requirement for those working with certain hazards, such as noise, hazardous chemicals or vibration. Occupational health professionals can help you become legally compliant by working with you to design the most appropriate health surveillance programmes in order to protect both you and your employees, and reduce the risk of work-related ill-health, possible litigation and the associated costs to business.

Do you need a health surveillance programme?

Occupational health practitioners can help you carry out a risk assessment to help decide if you need health surveillance. To determine the need, think about the following:

  • Is there anything in your workplace that might harm your workers’ health?
  • Are you taking reasonable steps to reduce risk and prevent harm?
  • What practical improvements you can make to reduce risk?

Other issues that can indicate whether health surveillance might be appropriate include:

  • previous cases of work-related ill health in your workplace
  • reliance on personal protective equipment as an exposure control measure
  • evidence of ill health in your industry
  • information from insurance claims, manufacturers’ data and industry guidance

What is included in a health surveillance assessment

The health surveillance assessment may include a health questionnaire asking about specific relevant symptoms, a hearing test for those working in noisy environments, a lung function test for those working with substances known to cause respiratory problems, or a skin inspection for those working with hazardous materials known to cause skin problems. Individuals are also provided with information on the risks, preventative measures and types of symptoms that may indicate a problem.

Talk to your staff

Health surveillance only works with the cooperation of your employees/workers, so you should consult them at all stages. Also include them in the assessment process, as they may help you make sure the controls that are suggested or put in place are practical.

Setting up a health surveillance scheme

As an employer, it helps to work with an occupational health provider to put an ongoing health surveillance scheme in place where your risk assessment shows it is necessary.

Consider the following:

  1. think about all the health hazards for which health surveillance may be required
  2. know which employees/workers could be exposed to each health hazard and ensure they receive the appropriate range of health surveillance
  3. identify who will lead and manage your health surveillance scheme
  4. agree roles, responsibilities and communication arrangements
  5. consider the practical details of performing health surveillance, for example shift workers and remote workers

Act on the results of health surveillance

When your health surveillance is concluded, you’ll get feedback from your OH professional. It is your responsibility to decide what actions to take based on the recommendations provided.

Here at Occupational Health Services we will include advice on fitness for task in relation to the relevant exposure, as well as when further health surveillance is required for each worker undergoing each type of health surveillance. You will be provided with an individual health record (which does not include any confidential health information) for each employee that must be kept by law for 40 years after the end of exposure.

Are you looking to set up a health surveillance programme? Visit our OH surveillance programme page here where you can find out more information.

You can always talk to us prior to booking the appointment, to ask for advice or to discuss a situation in more detail.