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As many start their first tentative steps back to the workplace, the news the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has not extended its deferral period for health surveillance means employers may once again face hefty fines if they cut corners. Phil Jackson-Taft outlines the challenges, and opportunities, facing OH in ensuring HSE compliance in a post-pandemic world.
Health surveillance, as occupational health (OH) practitioners will well know, is a legal requirement if you have employees who are exposed to specific workplace hazards, such as noise, vibration, radiation, asbestos, lead solvents, fumes, dust, and other substances hazardous to health.
According to Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidelines, employers must put in place ‘systematic, regular and appropriate procedures to detect early signs of work-related ill health among employees exposed to certain health risks, and act on the results’. For example, if employees are exposed to high levels of noise, then your employee needs to have regular audiometry tests.
The HSE responded to the limitations of lockdown by imposing a hiatus on health surveillance to protect both OH practitioners and employees from ‘non-essential’ contact.
Quite often, this kind of OH health surveillance work (such as, for example, spirometry) requires face-to-face appointments to be done effectively. Understandably, the focus at the height of the pandemic was to safeguard everyone from Covid-19 infection, so health surveillance found itself very much on hold.
However, as infection numbers have continued to drop and the vaccine rollout has progressed, that period of grace is now at an end. For employers this means a full return to completing regular health assessments for your workforce where a risk has been identified.
The problem with health surveillance is that it is not everybody’s idea of a thrilling subject and too often is viewed as a tick-box activity. However, thinking in that way can potentially have cata