When workers are (or may be) exposed to chemicals, noise, blood, and other workplace hazards on a regular basis, they should be enrolled in a medical surveillance program to evaluate the potential impact of those substances on their health and prevent acute and chronic illnesses resulting from this exposure. Medical surveillance is the methodical gathering and assessment of data for employees who are exposed or who could be exposed to occupational hazards. The goal of this program is to identify workplace health hazards and support mitigation efforts. The assessment monitors workers for negative health effects and determines how to effectively prevent exposure to the hazards and their root causes. A surveillance program combines the evaluations of individual workers and cumulative surveillance data over time. By application of this methodology, employers can reduce and eventually prevent occupational illness and injury in the workplace and ensure that workers remain safe and healthy.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) standards for medical surveillance state that employers must make certain medical examinations available to employees at no cost. It is important to note that while employers are required to provide this service, employees are not required to participate in the examination(s). An employee may choose not to receive an examination offered as part of the surveillance program if they find the practice too invasive or have concerns about medical record confidentiality.
The OSHA standard encourages employee participation in medical surveillance programs, as it greatly increases the likelihood of successfully identifying work-related negative changes in an employee’s health and their source. This, in turn, allows employers more opportunity to make any corrections necessary for preventing further damage. Employers are encouraged to employ medical surveillance programs not only to serve as a means of addressing potential health-related concerns in the workplace but as a way to save companies money when it comes to health insurance plans and workers’ compensation costs.
OSHA’s medical surveillance standards cover many work-related issues, including testing lead levels in workers’ blood, hearing tests to identify work-related hearing loss, asbestos, and silica dust to ensure exposure is not negatively affecting a worker’s lungs, arsenic, and bloodborne pathogens. In practice, these standards often require testing in the form of annual physicals, chest x-rays, pulmonary function tests, urine and/or blood tests, and questionnaires. Many of the regulatory requirements become compulsory when exposure to employees is at least half of the PEL or “permissible exposure limit” of the hazard for at least 30 days a year. For example, if an employee is exposed to loud machinery or tools for even a few days each month, OSHA’s Occupational Noise Exposure Standard takes effect.
How EH&S software can help attain compliance with OSHA’s medical surveillance regulations.
Ensuring compliance with all of OSHA’s medical surveillance program requirements can be a daunting and time-consuming task, especially for large companies that have workers who are exposed to multiple health hazards. There are many benefits to using EH&S software to manage these medical surveillance activities, including:
- Bringing the various components of the medical surveillance program (checklists, reports, notifications, etc.) together on one digital platform.
- Easier identification of job roles or descriptions that may be subject to medical surveillance.
- Standardization of processes, such as enrollment for workers in the required medical surveillance programs.
- Streamlined scheduling and automated, electronic notifications of important test dates for workers (audiometry, pulmonary function, respirator fit visits, etc.) to keep them accountable for visits to the approved healthcare providers.
- Charts, graphs, dashboards, and other visual displays of data to make the identification of trends (e.g., the highest rate per department) and creation of reports (e.g., exposure history, incident reports) a simpler process.
- An ROI that takes into account the money saved from lower employee health insurance premiums and workers’ compensation losses.
Employers are urged to implement and follow a medical surveillance program. The added benefit of compliance for any US-based organization with OSHA’s medical surveillance standards is that of being prepared to meet the agency’s needs and avoiding the penalties of violations. A medical surveillance program will help to identify potential occupational health issues and prevent unsafe exposure to hazardous substances. Employees are urged to capitalize on the opportunity of a safer workplace and take advantage of medical surveillance programs. Employers can find an adequate return on investment by saving the company money on costly occupational illnesses while improving their reputation as a company that keeps people the priority over profit by providing as safe a workplace as possible.
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