The HSE estimates that 2,000,000 people within the UK are currently suffering from an illness caused by, or made worse by their work environment. Ill-health can have a significant impact on productivity within a company, it is estimated that sickness absence costs the UK economy an estimated £12 billion per annum.
Occupational health considers the effect that work may have on health and the effect that health can have on work.
Health surveillance is the process of monitoring the health of employees exposed to specific health risks during the course of their work. Employers need to provide health surveillance to demonstrate that they are meeting their duty of care for their employees. The purpose of the health surveillance should be covered in the companies’ occupational health policy.
Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) states that employers have a general duty of care to ensure (so far as is reasonably practicable) the health, safety and welfare of all their employees. Health surveillance is about having procedures in place to detect work-related ill-health at an early stage and acting on the results (HSE, 2005). Health surveillance is not an end in itself but shows whether control measures to reduce and eliminate workplace health hazards are working.
Employers have a duty to reduce (so far as is reasonably practicable) the risks to the health and safety of employees and others who may be affected by work activity. The employer needs to identify hazards and assess the risks. Adequate risk assessment will identify significant residual risk to health even after reasonably practicable control measures have been applied. Employees need to understand their role and responsibilities for health and safety; this includes their responsibilities within a health surveillance programme.
A suitable health surveillance programme aims to prevent ill health rather than cure it. Occupational health focuses on the protection and promotion of the health of workers by preventing and controlling occupational diseases and accidents. The aim is to eliminate occupational factors and conditions hazardous to health and safety at work. There is a focus to develop and promote healthy and safe work, working environments and organisations. This will enable workers to conduct socially and economically productive lives. (WHO, 1994)