In today’s litigious society, companies are under increasing pressure to ensure they do all they can to avoid employees developing health problems caused by their work.
As well as helping to safeguard health, a proper system for monitoring the wellbeing of staff can both prevent future health problems and provide your company with a defence should a claim for compensation arise years down the line.
Abermed specialises in health surveillance – the regular monitoring of employee health – to identify early signs of work-related damage from exposure to hazards, and putting in place preventative measures in order to avoid long-term or permanent harm. It goes without saying that, in the global oil&gas industry, a healthy workforce and effective working practices are essential to protect the integrity of operations since health problems can potentially result in installation downtime. In fact, health surveillance for hazards with a recognised health effect that can be measured is a legal requirement under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and accompanying regulations such as the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations and others which cover specific hazards such as lead, asbestos, noise and vibration.
Health surveillance can include checking hearing for damage caused by exposure to excessive noise, measuring lung function or examining the skin for signs of damage from chemical exposure, and conducting blood or urine tests to measure biological uptake of chemicals.
At Abermed, for example, our specialised staff:
Advise on risks and assist with risk assessments.
Identify those at risk and what the risks are, which can be done through workplace monitoring.
Advise on control measures and procedures and the maintenance of records, as well as verify the effectiveness of control measures.
Undertake pre-employment testing.
Manage an ongoing health surveillance programme.
Provide reports and recommendations.
The first stage of the process is to identify if there is a risk to health from either chemical, biological or physical hazards; who might be affected by it; what the level of risk is, and what actions is required to control the risk.
Through the use of occupational hygienists, we can provide a quantitative indication of the level of risk to hazards such as chemicals, noise, vibration, and so on, which will assist in determining and establishing controls. Control is an important stage and we can provide specialist advice on how to achieve this through a number of methods such as engineering design and changes to working practices.
Health surveillance not only provides early identification of work-related illnesses, but provides a system of ensuring the effectiveness of control measures. Adverse health effects will provide an indication of a requirement for additional workplace control. When work-related ill-health occurs, in some cases, it might be necessary to redeploy personnel or provide ongoing support with the help of a designated occupational health nurse.
For its part, Abermed has developed a health surveillance database which can be accessed online and enables you to extract reports and results, including a list of employees and test dates, as well as dates they are to be reviewed. It’s also possible to provide anonymous statistics that can help HSE or HR staff to manage employee health and health hazards.
Health surveillance is a vitally important area for both employees and their employers, not least because recent years have seen a huge surge in compensation claims from people suffering from debilitating conditions linked to, for example, prolonged exposure to vibration at work – with millions of pounds being paid out by way of compensation. For more information on health surveillance, visit www.abermed.com or the Health and Safety Executive website at www.hsebooks.co.uk
Dr Elizabeth Wright is director and senior consultant occupational physician at Abermed, which specialises in providing medical and occupational health services to the international oil&gas industry