Health Surveillance is a fairly straightforward concept to understand, despite not all companies being required to practice it, or all employees being required to undergo it. Nevertheless, if you are an HR Director or Manager then it is important that you understand what it is and when it is required.

What is Health Surveillance

Essentially, health surveillance is a method by which employers can monitor the well-being of employees who may be exposed to a factor of their work which is hazardous to their health. Via a series of occupational health checks, employers can use health surveillance to take action if signs of work-related ill-health present themselves.
Workplace health is an important factor to consider for any employer. Employees who are subjected to substances hazardous to their health, or conditions that can cause health issues such as excessive noise or vibration, noxious fumes or dusts, radiation, and a host of additional risks, then health surveillance should be a consideration for HR departments. In fact, if employees are subjected to such risks, then health surveillance checks will be required by law.

What an employer should consider

Needless to say, as part of your occupational health provisions, it is important to consider health surveillance when you:
• Need to identify whether employees are suffering the effects of poor health due to their job role.
• Need to detect and gauge the severity of hazards to the health of your employees.
• Are providing employees exposed to such hazards a means by which they may express additional apprehensions regarding the risks involved in working in such conditions.
• Are complimenting a risk assessment.
• Are providing additional workplace training for employees so that they may exercise due diligence in hazardous conditions.

Benefits of health surveillance

One of the benefits of using health surveillance measures in order to monitor workplace health, is that it provides employers and employees with an opportunity to strengthen their risk assessment systems. By extension this then means that additional measures can be taken (if required and if possible) in order to reduce the risk involved in certain hazardous workplace activities.
If, for example, you have a highways labourer who operates a pneumatic drill, then it is impossible to remove the risks posed by the vibrations of the machine. Even if a drill is mounted on a small excavator, vibrations will still travel into the fingers of the operator, resulting, eventually, in vibration white-finger. With health surveillance in place, you can detect this health risk early, and prevent it from happening.
Similarly, you may have an employee who uses a significant amount of industrial cleaning solvents. These clearly pose a risk to your employee’s health, even when you take measures to prevent harm from the use of such substances. Using health surveillance to detect respiratory and dermal complaints at early stages can help you tackle them before they become a serious issue.
You should always try to eliminate risk during the risk assessment stage. If a risk cannot be eliminated, then all possible precautions should be put into place in order to reduce the severity of the risk, or to circumvent it completely. If this is not possible, then health surveillance should be utilised in order to monitor the health of employees and prevent them from becoming ill, by detecting the signs of poor workplace health at very early stages.