Health surveillance: What is it?

Health surveillance: What is it?


Author: Andrew Tatlock

The HSE has launched new online guidance on 'health surveillance' to make it easier for employers to understand their obligations and how they can check and protect their workers' health.

Health surveillance is a system of health checks which allows for early identification of ill health and helps identify any corrective action needed. These health checks may be required by law if employees are exposed to noise or vibration, solvents, fumes, dusts, biological agents and other substances hazardous to health. Research shows that past exposure to harmful substances is responsible for an estimated 12,000 deaths-a-year.

The new guidance has been developed with industry input and seeks to clarify when action is or is not needed.

In essence, the requirement for health surveillance should be known to an employer as a result of its usual health and safety risk assessments. From the risk assessment, an employer will have found out the hazards in the workplace, identified who is at risk and taken measures to do something to control the risks.

Where some risk remains and there is likely to be harm caused to your employees, you will need to take further steps. An employer should consider health surveillance if employees are at risk from:

  • noise or vibration
  • solvents, dusts, fumes, biological agents and other substances hazardous to health
  • asbestos, lead or work in compressed air
  • ionising radiation

Control measures may not always be reliable, despite appropriate checking and maintenance, so health surveillance can help make sure that any ill health effects are detected as early as possible.

A large multi-national company was recently fined £100,000 plus £30,000 costs as a result of action taken by the HSE. The company had failed to install extraction equipment in its soldering room, and additionally the HSE considered that solderers employed by the company should have been placed under a health surveillance scheme.