Health surveillance

Employers who expose their employees to certain chemicals, physical agents, materials or ergonomic risks may be required to undertake systematic, regular and appropriate health surveillance on those employees. This requirement is set out under specific legislation, pertaining to noise, specialist equipment (such as DSE), or certain substances hazardous to health, such as asbestos.

Where health surveillance is required, it should be undertaken only by competent people, who in many cases must be medically qualified. Employers are required to provide adequate information to employees on health surveillance provisions, results and the records they keep. Records may have to be kept for up to 50 years.

In circumstances where there is no specific duty on the employer to carry out health surveillance, the employer has general duties under UK health and safety legislation to carry out appropriate health surveillance. This general duty applies where the employer’s risk assessments identify that:

• there is an identifiable disease or adverse health condition related to the work;
• there is a valid technique available to detect indications of the disease or condition;
• there is a reasonable likelihood that the disease or condition may occur under the particular conditions of the work; and
• health surveillance is likely to further the protection of the health and safety of the employees concerned.
The objectives of health surveillance are to:
• protect the health of individual employees by detecting, as early as possible, adverse changes that might be caused by exposure to hazardous substances;
• help to evaluate the measures taken to control exposure to health hazards; and
• collect, keep, update and use data and information for determining and evaluating hazards to health.