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Four steps to determine if your employee is exposed to risk

by , 17 September 2013
To be legally compliant with the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), you must perform medical surveillance after completing a risk assessment. To ensure you meet all necessary requirements at a minimum of cost, read on to discover how to determine if a worker is exposed to risk.

You need to perform medical surveillance in your company.

But before you perform medical surveillance, you need to establish if your worker is exposed to risk.

By identifying the exposed risks, biological agents and chemical hazards you can determine what medical surveillance is necessary so you can verify your company's particular requirements if you employ a consultant, says the Health&Safety Advisor.

Here are the four steps you should follow to establish if a worker is exposed to hazards

Step #1: Identify hazards that arise from the environment

Let's say Jack is the risk control officer of a new construction company.

The CEO instructs him to get the company compliant with occupational health and safety regulations.

He starts by consulting the OHSA to develop a health and safety plan and then walks around the plant to assess the risks that arise in the workplace.

Jack should ask these five questions to help determine what medical surveillance is necessary in the company or manufacturing plant

Are the risks:

  • Chemical? For example, is the worker exposed to dust, fumes, gas, and vapours?
  • Physical? For example, is the worker exposed to radiation, noise, glare or poor lighting, extremes of temperature, vibrations and abnormal atmospheric pressures?
  • Ergonomical? For instance, is the employee required to work in confined spaces, uncomfortable positions, use computers or drive?
  • Biological? For example, is the worker exposed to blood or animal products, sewerage?
  • Psychological? For example, is the worker required to work under high stress, high demands on productivity, heights, driving, shift work, call centre?

Step #2: Assess the time of exposure (how long are employees exposed to hazards?

Ask the questions:

  • Is the worker exposed to risk (hazards) daily?
  • And for how long?

This'll indicate when you must do biological monitoring.

For example: Jack discovers that many of his workers include builders, drivers, crane operators, reach truck, and operators of specialised equipment. These employees are exposed to heavy loads, uncomfortable positions, dust, fumes, heat, glare, noise for eight hours a day, 40 hours a week.

Test yourself here to see if you can as accurately as possible think of what medical surveillance you need to do in this situation:

Generally, the answer would be that these employees would need:

  • Occupational medical history questionnaire
  • Standard medical examination
  • Special emphasis on controlled chronic illnesses such as hypertension and diabetes, epilepsy
  • Special emphasis on muscoskeletal system
  • Electro cardiogram. If necessary, you may have to do this test according to individual medical history and personal risks such as abdominal obesity, hypertensive, diabetic, smoker, over the age of 40, high blood cholesterol.
  • Drug and alcohol screening
  • Vision screening
  • Lung functions
  • Chest X-rays
  • Biological monitoring – depending on the types of fumes
  • Medical certificate of fitness

Step #3: From the above information deduce what medical surveillance tests you need to conduct

Using Jack as a case study, please note that: As Jack's company doesn't have an on-site medical service, Jack consults a reputable occupational health mobile medical company to do the medical surveillance for his employees.

He explains that his company is new and many of the employees are exposed to things such as dust and fumes.

He has to provide relevant information to receive the correct necessary medical surveillance.

Jack achieves this by providing a list of his employees with relevant occupations and a breakdown of job categories with special needs (for example, drivers).

In discussion with the occupational health practitioner he decides that:

  • All employees will need baseline medicals.
  • Those exposed to dust, chemicals and fumes will require lung function tests (spirometry) and chest x-rays
  • Those exposed to noise will need hearing tests (audiometry)
  • Drivers will need eye testing

Step #4: If you decide to use the services of an external service provider, you'll get a quote and if you accept you'll sign a contract for services rendered

For example, Jack decides on a date for the medical surveillance onsite and discusses and agrees on the special requirements of the medical service:

  • Privacy
  • A quiet area
  • Electricity
  • Access to running water
  • Ablutions

To ensure smooth running of the service, he must make a co-ordinator available on the set date to ensure staff arrive timeously and to inform and prepare employees.

He may also need to request the help of an interpreter to assist with filling in forms.

It's that simple. Using these four steps will help ensure you correctly determine if your employee is exposed to risk and the level of medical surveillance is necessary.

Turn to chapter M04 of your Health and Safety Advisor to get template questionnaire to assist you with the specific type of medical surveillance you require at your workplace.

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