One of an employer’s biggest responsibilities is to assess the risks that their employees will be exposed to while they are in the workplace. This is particularly the case for industries that deal with harsh environments or dangerous substances such as asbestos or lead. According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), it’s important to control and monitor such risks through a medical surveillance program.
With such risks, general health screening is no longer sufficient, hence the need for a more thorough medical surveillance. The question now is when does medical surveillance for employers absolutely necessary? The purpose of such a program is to minimize airborne concentrations of harmful substances and sources of ingestion while protecting workers from the adverse effects of exposure. Here are some instances where you may need such a program:
One surefire sign that you need a medical surveillance system in place is when there is an identifiable risk. For instance, if there are known diseases or health effects associated with the exposure to substances in the workplace. Continued exposure to high levels of lead, for example, can lead to neurological, gastrointestinal, reproductive, and even renal issues. It is your duty, therefore, as an employer to periodically conduct medical surveillance to all employees covered.
It goes without saying that surveillance should also be conducted if it is possible to detect the disease or health effects that may be caused by exposure. This is also true if the method of detection will pose no further risk to the employees. The standard requires testing to be performed by or under the supervision of a licensed physician and conducted at reasonable intervals. When applicable, follow-up medical examinations and consultations should also be provided for employees.
A standard medical surveillance has two parts: periodic biological monitoring and medical examinations. Biological monitoring consists of blood lead level (PbB) and zinc protoporphyrin (ZPP) tests at least every 6 months, but it intervals may differ based on the level of exposure to your employees. Your physician or healthcare provider may be able to tell when the most appropriate time to conduct biological monitoring is.
On the other hand, medical examinations will include basic tests such as the respirator fit test. The goal here is to establish a baseline which data gathered after initial testing will be compared to. Examinations should be done prior to assigning an employee to a high-risk environment for the first time and when an employee experiences symptoms associated to hazardous substances.
The Importance of Occupational Health Surveillance, Fit for Work
Employee Standard Summary, Occupational Safety & Health Administration