WHAT IS MEDICAL SURVEILLANCE?
The Occupational Health and Safety Act and Regulations 85 of 1993, defines medical surveillance as:
“A planned programme or periodic examination, which may include clinical examinations, biological monitoring or medical tests of employees by an occupational health practitioner or in prescribed cases, by an occupational medicine practitioner.”
These medical tests could be x-rays, hearing tests, or biological monitoring. It is applied only to detect negative effects of specific workplace hazards. It is not a general health check by a doctor that will pick up every illness
Medical surveillance is required by law to be carried out in workplaces where workers are exposed to particular hazards. The particular hazards that require medical surveillance include noise, asbestos, certain chemicals, certain biological agents, and lead. It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that the medical surveillance is carried out and the employer must pay for the service of a medical professional.
Only an occupational health practitioner who is a doctor or nurse with qualification in occupational medicine can do a medical surveillance programme.
Medical surveillance should be done systematically, as part of a programme where the tests are repeated at regular intervals. Its purpose is to watch out for early signs of work-related illnesses in employees who are exposed to certain hazards.
It is meant to play a monitoring role, to monitor whether preventative measures are failing or not and to identify any early signs of exposure to a hazard in the body. It is not meant to be preventative, and it is not a general medical check-up
AIM OF MEDICAL SURVEILLANCE
•To establish worker’s health status when they start to work in an environment where they are exposed to particular hazards
•To establish if a worker needs to be removed from a certain work environment or if a worker can return to that environment.
•To ensure that workers can seek appropriate medical treatment
•To show if the company’s prevention and control measure are working effectively
•To show that hazards need to be removed and controlled more effectively.
•Medical surveillance should not be used as a tool to discover hazards. That should happen through hazard identification and risk assessment. Medical surveillance should be to ensure that control and prevention measures are working properly
MEDICAL SURVEILLANCE IN THE REGULATIONS
There are five regulations under the OHS Act which require a medical surveillance programme. These are:
1. Hazardous Biological Agents Regulation
2. Asbestos Regulations
3. Hazardous Chemical Substances Regulation
4. Lead Regulation
5. Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Regulations
TYPES OF TESTING/EXAMINATIONS DONE AS PART OF A GENERAL MEDICAL SURVEILLANCE PROGRAMME
- Audio-metric Testing
- Lung Functions Testing
- Physical Examination
- Working on Heights Exam
- Eye test