Health surveillance

09 July 2019

As an employer, you have a duty of care to keep your employees healthy. But in some industries, the risk of exposure to harmful substances is extremely high - so frequent health checks must be part of your plans.

Health surveillance tests are a legal requirement for some industries and must be carried out with no excuses.

In this guide, we'll discuss what health surveillance is, why it's important for your business and common examples of these tests.

What is health surveillance?

Health surveillance is a programme for ongoing health checks, with the main aim of detecting ill health effects early from different processes on site.

As an employer, you have a duty of care to keep your employees safe from exposure to the following: solvents, fumes, dusts, biological agents & other substances hazardous to health.

By having an ongoing health surveillance programme, you can detect any potential work-related ill health issues that your staff are suffering from.

However - it's crucial you're aware that health surveillance isn’t a substitute for your existing control measures. Workplace control measures aren't 100% reliable, complacency must be avoided when it comes to occupational health.

What's the aim of a health surveillance programme?

To ensure you're keeping your employees as safe as can be, it's important you're aware of the aims of health surveillance programmes:

The following are the main aims of the checks:

  • Protect employee health and other people who may be on site.
  • Allows the employer to see the effectiveness of control measures and evaluate health risks.
  • Employees can raise concerns about their health or early signs of health problems (such as noise-induced hearing loss and occupational asthma).
  • Employers can provide training and education on the impacts of using protective equipment at work.
  • Health surveillance and health assessments help in providing invaluable feedback on the potential health risks posed by different materials on site.

Health surveillance can take place in many ways, a simple test to monitor health can go a long way to ensure you protect workers' health as best you can.

Is health surveillance a legal requirement?

Although health surveillance isn't a legal requirement for all businesses - it's a requirement for industries and companies where there's a potential for a high amount of hazards.

Such as:

  • Work that involves removing asbestos.
  • Any work that involves the use of lead.
  • Work that involves close proximity to ionising, radiation, solvents, fumes & biological agents.
  • Work that involves compressed air.
  • Manufacturing where materials that can cause potential occupational diseases from hazardous substances.
  • Tasks with substances that are included in Schedule 6 of the Control of Substance Hazardous Regulations 2002, which makes up part of the Health and Safety Executive.

Don't confuse health surveillance with ways to monitor employees' health with the suspected cause being from work but can't be established workplace wellbeing checks. Such as promoting healthy living & fitness.

When is health surveillance required?

Health surveillance assessments should be carried out on new starters, on an annual basis to current employers, or when there's a change of process.

An initial test will allow you to receive baseline results and with the following annual tests, be able to stop work-related ill health issues at an early stage.

An assessment should also be carried out if an employee has suffered from exposure to hazardous substances such as radiation, solvents, fumes & dust.

A metal and black stethoscope lying on a table.

Who should carry out a health surveillance programme?

You should only allow qualified people to carry out health surveillance checks on your employees.

The following should only be considered for the task:

  • Occupational health professionals, such as physicians, advisors or technicians.
  • Employees who are fully trained, competent and accredited.
  • Doctors with appropriate training and experience in occupational health.

What are common examples of health surveillance?

Health surveillance can be considered on an individual basis or as part of company-wide ongoing health checks.

Below are common examples of medical examinations that can be carried out to catch health issues at an early stage:

  • Lung function tests.
  • Skin examinations.
  • Hand and arm or full body vibration tests.
  • Medical tests such as blood, urine and blood pressure tests.
  • Physical tests such as musculoskeletal, function and height and weight tests.

In order to ensure you're managing your employee's health correctly, it's important you understand when health surveillance is required.

Is carrying out a risk assessment important to health surveillance?

It's crucial that before a successful health surveillance programme can be put in place, you must carry out a risk assessment.

The risk assessment will help achieve the following:

  • Identify hazards and other substances hazardous to health.
  • Which employees are at risk from ill health.
  • Help identify which control measures are required.
  • Risk assessments help you decide which level of health surveillance checks are required and when they should be carried out.

Once your risk assessment identifies any hazards in the workplace, you can then create a tailored health surveillance programme that works for your company.

A woman receiving a blood test from a doctor.

How to carry out a risk assessment

To carry out a successful risk assessment, there are five simple steps that should be followed:

  1. Perform a site walk-around, consult with your workforce and identify any hazards.
  2. Decide who might be at harm from the health effects of the hazards.
  3. Evaluate the risks and decide which control measures should be put in place.
  4. Record your findings and ensure changes are implemented.
  5. Review your assessment, update where needed and perform annual risk assessments moving forwards.

Before bringing a health surveillance programme into your company, you need to know who can carry out the health checks for you.

How to set up a health surveillance scheme

In order to set up a successful and effective health surveillance scheme for your business, the following steps must be taken:

Take advice from an occupational health professional

Speak with a professional in occupational health and ask any questions you may have. They can advise and carry out the checks for you.

Identify who'll manage the scheme

Ensure you choose someone who will be able to manage the programme for you with the minimum of fuss. This'll either be a health professional, or a member of staff with the correct training in place.

Agree on roles and responsibilities

Before starting the programme, you need to have all of the roles and responsibilities assigned to the relevant people. Not assigning the correct people can lead to serious health issues down the line for your employees.

Consider all practicalities for the surveillance scheme

Make sure every detail is planned out, from the date the checks take place, to when the results will come back. Employee health is extremely important, and all the minor details need to be in place and ready to go.

Get expert advice from Peninsula on health surveillance

As an employer, you have a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of your employees.

You have a duty of care to provide your staff with a safe place to work and carrying out health surveillance is a key part of doing so. Failure to do so can lead to potentially serious health problems for your employees in the future.

Make sure you take every step possible to minimize the risks your employees could face from exposure.

Peninsula offers you expert 24-hour health and safety advice, helping you to keep your employees safe. Contact us on 0800 029 4376

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