Workplace health surveillance
The concept of workplace health surveillance is new to occupational health and is frequently confused with medical screening. Health screening refers to the early detection and treatment of diseases associated with particular occupations, while workplace health surveillance refers to the removal of the causative factors.
NIOSH defines occupational health surveillance as “the tracking of occupational injuries, illnesses, hazards, and exposures.” The Joint ILO/WHO Committee on Occupational Health at its 12th Session in 1995 defined an occupational health surveillance system as “a system which includes a functional capacity for data collection, analysis and dissemination linked to occupational health programmes”.
- Availability of easily obtainable statewide data
- Public health importance of the occupational health effect or exposure to be measured
- Potential for intervention activities
These indicators are useful in assessing the ongoing policies and preventive measures but they also have some limitations. Among the major limitations are the underreporting of occupational health disorders (very common in most of the undeveloped and developing countries), inability to diagnose the etiology by the occupational health care workers and availability of the data such as municipal death records.
The most important tool is biomonitoring, which indicates the total body burden of a hazardous chemical in a worker by means of the laboratory investigations using biological specimens like urine or blood. The best practice is to use non-invasive procedures as far as possible for this purpose.
Other tools for workplace health surveillance include physical examinations and epidemiological cohort and case control studies. The pulmonary function testing is the mainstay of early detection occupational lung diseases. This test gives information about severity and staging of asthma and other restrictive lung diseases. The FEV1 is an important screening test. Pulmonary function testing combined with plathysmography reflects a very clear picture of status of lung functions of the subject.
Audiometry remains the mainstay of diagnosis of noise-induced hearing loss which is the most common reported occupational disease in all parts of the world.
Hand arm assessment and dermatological assessments are other important tools for workplace health surveillance. The Occupational Health Safety Network (OHSN) is a secure electronic surveillance system developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to address health and safety risks among health care personnel. Hospitals and other healthcare facilities can upload the occupational injury data they already collect to the secure database for analysis and benchmarking with other de-identified facilities. NIOSH works with OHSN participants in identifying and implementing timely and targeted interventions. OHSN modules currently focus on three high risk and preventable events that can lead to injuries or musculoskeletal disorders among healthcare personnel: musculoskeletal injuries from patient handling activities; slips, trips, and falls; and workplace violence. OHSN enrollment is currently open to all U.S. healthcare facilities. OHSN may be expanded to other industry sectors in the future.
Confidentiality of information
Most countries have specific regulations for individual health data, which require that the worker be informed if this information is ever shared with any third party. Workers should have the right to access this information whenever they wish.