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About Health Surveillance

How worker health is monitored, when it’s necessary and who can interpret results.

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Starter Guide to Health Surveillance

Use the links below to get a thorough overview of Health Surveillance, learn who can monitor workers health and interpret results.

About Health Surveillance

Health surveillance is a system of health checks to help businesses manage the risk to their employees.

Health checks may be required by law

Health checks may be required by law in industries where employees may be exposed to noise or vibration, ionising radiation, solvents, fumes, dusts, biological agents and other substances hazardous to health (see Schedule 14 in the SafeWork Australia Act), or work in compressed air. 

When there are workplace hazards with predictable risk, employers are required by law to establish a health risk management program to protect the health and wellbeing of their workers. 

Sometimes businesses may not be legally required to adopt a health check program but will do so to protect their employees (for instance, from sun exposure).  

If you aren’t sure whether you need to or not, KINNECT can help guide you through the relevant steps to make sure you are meeting your responsibilities.  

The purpose of Health Surveillance is to keep workers safe

Systematic checks are required to detect any indicators of possible harm at the earliest possible stage so that action can be taken to optimise the continuing good health of the worker. 

It's not just about health checks

Health Surveillance is not done in isolation. Programs should be designed to complement the health and safety controls that you already have in your workforce, including personal protective equipment, safe working methods, policies and procedures. 

How to determine the risk in your organisation

Significant risk decisions are made taking into consideration the likelihood of exposure to a hazardous chemical in conjunction with the known health effects of the chemical.

  • You should consider instigating a health monitoring program for chemicals with severe known health effects, for example chemicals that are known, or are presumed to be, carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to human reproduction, respiratory or skin sensitisers or those with other known severe toxic effects.
  • KINNECT can help by facilitating consultation with a Supervising Doctor who can provide expert advise on how to instigate a health monitoring program with chemicals with severe known health effects.

How Worker Health can be Monitored

The type of monitoring that will be required can vary greatly depending on the industry, the hazard or substances the worker is exposed to.

Reviewing Occupational and Medical History & Physical Examinations

As part of a health surveillance program, the following components may be included

  • worker’s personal medical history
  • worker’s occupational history 
  • reviewing records of previous exposure (for instance how long they may have been exposed to a particular substance)
  • physical examination to look for any bodily changes

The focus of health surveillance is to be proactive and prevent harm from occurring. Therefore one of the most important elements is providing health advice and education about how to keep safe at work, what symptoms or signs to look out for.

Biological Monitoring

Biological testing is also often used to detect the presence of a chemical in the body or a test indicating the potential for harm caused by exposure to hazardous agents, chemicals or substances. This could include Audiograms, Respiratory (lung) function tests, Skin Checks, Chest X-Rays, Low dose High Resolution CT Scans, Testing for specific chemicals in blood, urine or skin. 

The type of testing used will vary depending on the type of exposure.

When should you monitor workers?

Health monitoring is generally completed routinely throughout a worker’s employment at commencement (known as baseline monitoring), during employment (periodic monitoring or post-exposure monitoring), and on exiting employment. 

You can find out more about these different stages of monitoring and the requirements in our Guide to The Different Types of Monitoring.

How do you know if your program is working?

If Medical History & Examination and Biological Monitoring does not detect anything unusual, this would be a negative result. Negative results are good and indicate that your Health Monitoring System and Controls are working well.  

If ‘adverse findings’ are detected, this would be a ‘non-negative’ result. If a non-negative result is detected, this could indicate a failure of your ‘safe systems’ of work and be a real workplace issue that needs further investigation. Or, it could be an incidental finding due to another explanation. The explanation must be decided by a suitably qualified medical practitioner.

Who can Help Monitor Worker Health

The law states that interpretation of health monitoring results can be performed by a qualified health practitioner (I.e.; a Nurse). However, for an abnormal result, the interpretation must be provided by a suitably qualified medical practitioner.

This requirement is embedded in Safe Work Australia’s model laws, regulations, and Codes of Practice. While it may be expressed slightly differently in each jurisdiction, the principle applies across all jurisdictions in Australia. 

Appointing a Supervising Medical Practioner

As part of your health monitoring program, your company must nominate a Supervising Medical Practitioner. This is a legislative requirement. 

You can nominate KINNECT as your Supervising Medical Practitioner if you don’t already have a supervising doctor.

KINNECT cannot provide a ‘test only’ service as all health monitoring requires a Supervising Medical Practitioner.

You can find out more about how KINNECT can support you in this guide.

What happens if an abnormal result is detected?

There are several things that will happen if a non-negative result is discovered.

  • The Supervising Medical Practitioner may order additional testing or further review to clarify any specific finding. This might include follow up investigations with a consultant doctor or further tests. 
  • They will notify the worker and explain the results directly if the result has the potential to be significant. 
  • They will also notify your company of the need for further investigation, the outcome of any assessment and provide specific advise if reviews to your ‘systems of work’ are required/recommended. 
  • By law, the regulator is also informed. 

Detecting the presence of an adverse finding in the body means a “failure” of your “safe systems of work” has already occurred.  A good system is evidenced by negative results. If a non-negative result is detected it could be due to a real workplace issue that needs further investigation by the employer, or an incidental finding due to some other explanation. 

Search our
Hazardous Exposure Directory.

KINNECT’s comprehensive guide to all the different monitoring requirements for chemicals, workplace hazards and legislative medicals.

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