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Tackling occupational health issues with a strategic plan

Organisations lose millions annually due to mismanagement of health issues in the workplace. The problem is twofold – firstly, the lack of identification of possible risks and secondly, the inability or reluctance to address the risks.

According to Mandy Steyn, MD of the HSP Group, a health risk assessment needs to put in place in order to achieve two very distinct, legally compliant outcomes. “Firstly, one needs to establish the protocol for establishing the health status of employees before working in an environment, in order to ensure that the employee does no harm to himself, his colleagues or equipment. Secondly, one needs to establish the impact of an environment on the health of an employee by monitoring the effect of hazards identified in the specific work area of each employee.”

The most common individual health risks encountered in the workplace are chronic diseases like uncontrolled diabetes and blood pressure; poor vision; lung diseases like pre-existing asthma and TB; and hearing loss. The most common occupational health risks are exposure to noise, dust, fumes, vibration, heat, sun exposure and working at heights.

Steyn says that noise induced hearing loss is the most regulated in South Africa, as it is such a common and debilitating occupational disease. For this reason, legal compliance in pre-employment, periodic and exit screening as well as effective submission of compensation claims is vital.

  1. The compilation of a suitable and effective occupational health workplace programme would encompass:1) Comprehensive safety, health, environmental and quality audit is conducted.
    2) A hygiene survey is undertaken in order to quantify health risks (when required).
    3) Medical staff, in conjunction with the health and safety team, draft a health risk assessment that identifies medical surveillance requirements, based on the hygiene survey report and a physical site inspection.
    4) Medical surveillance as identified is conducted.
    5) Follow-up of identified problems is undertaken.
    6) Ongoing surveillance and re-assessment of the programme occurs.

Steyn points out that one needs to reach a balance in testing since over testing is expensive and under testing is risky. “The risk assessment needs to be a team effort, spearheaded by the occupational health staff and in conjunction with the health and safety team. The risk assessment is of no value unless a physical site visit is conducted and is based on the hygiene survey.”

HSP provides a comprehensive occupational health service that includes Health Risk Assessments, medical surveillance, certificate of fitness, hearing and lung function tests, vision screening, chest X-Rays, biological monitoring, primary health and on site clinics, HIV management, acute/chronic treatment, patient education as well as extensive training across a number of modalities.

“The health profile of employees needs to be carefully considered before organisations embark on a health management programme. Most organisations lack the resources to undertake risk assessments and to implement suitable mitigation measures.

 

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