What is it and why is it done?
The purpose of medical surveillance in the workplace is for the early identification of conditions, if any, that could present an increased risk of adverse health effects related to the job being performed. Medical health surveillance is a preventive effort used to screen and monitor the employee’s health for hazardous exposures and is different than treatment in response to a reported injury or illness.
Based on the type of work, regulatory medical testing is performed to assure compliance with federal (OSHA) and state regulations (WISHA) when workers, as part of their job, are exposed to particular health hazards.
Health hazards requiring medical surveillance may include chemicals such as hexavalent chromium used in the auto and paint industry or asbestos monitoring resulting from exposure to friable asbestos used in the construction and mining industry. Hazardous exposures in the workplace can include chemical, physical, and infectious agents such as noise, tuberculosis, blood borne pathogens, and animal contact depending upon the type of job a person performs.
Depending on the hazards in the workplace, workers may be required to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) in order to protect them against these hazardous exposures. Workers that wear respirators to protect their lungs must undergo a respirator medical clearance with fit-testing and training prior to wearing a respirator in the workplace.
What are the benefits?
In performing post-offer (pre-employment) medical screenings an initial baseline of the workers’ health is established and then used to monitor their future health as they pertain to potential occupational exposures to hazardous agents through periodic health screenings. Specific test results and other personal medical information generated by these exams are kept confidential between the worker and healthcare provider. Recommendations are then made by the healthcare provider to the employer based on exam results (i.e. may use full face respirator without restrictions for 8 hours per day during 40 hour work week) and the workers’ confidential health information is protected.
Another benefit of medical surveillance, and especially periodic or annual surveillance, is the analysis of a particular population’s health that works together and exposed to the same hazardous agents. When reviewing screening results from a group of workers being evaluated sometimes abnormal trends in health status. Review of group results helps to identify potential problem areas and the effectiveness of existing worksite preventive strategies (i.e. increasing airflow ventilation in the ceiling in order to decrease fumes and vapors that is resulting in many workers to have ongoing eye burning and tearing over the last 12 months). The cost of installing the ventilation system was actually more affordable for the business, than the time loss in visits to the urgent care and productivity loss of the workers.
What to look for when selecting a provider?
It is important to select a healthcare provider that specializes in understanding the workplace, its workplace environment and the job that is expected of the worker. Occupational health and medicine physicians and nurses not only understand the healthcare environment, but have also understand the workplace and the hazards associated with work. Their education in occupational injury and illness, knowledge in toxicology and workplace health hazards give them a thorough understanding in providing quality care to both the employer and worker when conducting medical surveillance.
For example, it is a known fact that cigarette smoking causes cancer and most people know this. However, cigarette smoking and exposure to friable asbestos in the workplace increases the risk of lung cancer exponentially. Occupational health providers will use this piece of personal history and educate the worker how smoking compounds his or her risks when working in an environment that potentiates their health risks and encourage a smoking cessation program.
Select a team of medical providers that are willing to understand your industry, job demands, business needs, and, the worker population. Select a team that is willing to perform walk-throughs and evaluation on-site. It is only then that a full understanding of your Industry and concerns can be communicated to our team in providing and meeting the medical surveillance needs for the health and wellness of your worker population.
Need Help With a Work Injury?
InstantMD, located in central Spokane, is easy to find. Drop-in, or schedule an appointment today.
InstantMD is an occupational health and work injury clinic in Spokane, WA that also offers a telemedicine service at the worksite. Our licensed providers specialize in occupational medicine and worker injury treatment. InstantMD providers see patients with all kinds of work-related injuries in the Spokane Clinic. Via telemedicine at the worksite they assess and treat work injuries and workers’ personal health issues as well. From sprains and strains, to hazardous exposures and fitness-for-duty concerns, our team of nurses and providers help workers get better and stay at work.