Health surveillance is an intrinsic part of an employer’s duty of care, and this duty is not just a moral requirement but a legal one also. Some of the legal requirements that employers have include not exposing their team to hazardous materials or situations without providing the right training and protection for them to undertake their role safely.
It is essential to provide a health surveillance programme when your employees:
- May develop a health condition due to exposure to a specific hazard.
- Work with a substance or an environment that is known to be hazardous.
- Are at high risk of developing a health condition.
- Work in an area where there are valid techniques for measuring the impact on their health.
Why you need to provide employee health surveillance
When it comes to protecting employees, it is the employer’s job to take an active, leading role. This means adopting a health surveillance programme that is both legally compliant and sufficiently robust so that work-related ill health is reduced and long term health is considered. The HSE website provides full guidance on employee health risk assessments and controls.
If your team are exposed to any of the following hazards, then you should provide a health surveillance programme:
- High-level noise
- Ionising radiation
- Hazardous substances (solvents, biological agents etc.)
- Asbestos or lead
- Working in compressed air
In addition, if your employees work with asbestos, compressed air, ionising radiation, or lead then you are required to follow precise regulations and provide each person with statutory medical surveillance. Each hazard will come with specific requirements for health surveillance, and so it is crucial to ensure that you are complying with the regulations for each hazard rather than providing the same programme for all.
How to start a health surveillance programme
If you are keen to start a health surveillance programme, then the following pointers should help you get everything organised successfully.
This is the first step in understanding the hazards that your team are exposed to and the mitigating factors that you implement to keep people safe. The health surveillance programme will work to monitor these risks and the impact they are having on the health of your team.
Each process in your work should have a policy linked to it so that everyone is clear on their role and who to seek support and guidance from. You can include diagrams in your policy that show the hierarchy of support available. This may include having specific people defined as being responsible for checking in with the team as well as explaining how Occupational Health works when there are work-related health concerns.
As an employer, you must ensure that your team understand how to follow the risk assessments and policies that are in place. The best way to do this is through regular training opportunities when you reinforce the messages of safety and wellbeing.
Any strong health surveillance programme will go through a constant form of evaluation. This includes ensuring all documentation and guidance follows best practice and sharing changes with all stakeholders to ensure a consistent approach.
What you should do with the results
There is no point in organising a health surveillance programme if you are not going to consider the results that come in. All quality employers will be keen to use any results they receive to adjust their working practices and keep their team safe.
When you are alerted to an incident where an employee has suffered from work-related poor health, then you must review your risk assessments and consider any policy changes needed to avoid anyone else experiencing the same thing (you should also have employers’ liability insurance in place). The types of solutions could involve introducing specific protective equipment, changing the way a specific task is undertaken or providing more robust training.
Health surveillance is not a fixed event, and you will need to be aware that new issues will crop up as time progresses. To ensure your staff are protected, you must be up to date with legal requirements, hazard awareness and ensuring that all safety kit is in the best condition at all times.