The importance of occupational health surveillance

Written by: Fit for Work team | Posted in: Blog

importance of health surveillanceThe Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 and the Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1999 require employers to make an assessment of the risks that their employees are exposed to which may affect their health, including respiratory sensitisers and irritants. The risks should be controlled and monitored and, where appropriate, health surveillance should be undertaken. The decision to carry out health surveillance would stem from pinpointing potential health hazards during a risk assessment, and measurable health outcomes.

Occupational health surveillance is distinct from general health screening and health promotion. It involves watching out for early signs of work-related ill health in employees exposed to certain health risks. Such risks could be exposure to noise, vibration, ionising radiation, asbestos, lead, fumes, dusts, biological agents, solvents or any other substances that could be hazardous to health.

Health surveillance is necessary when:

  • there is an identifiable disease or adverse health effect associated with the exposure to the substance/s in the workplace, for example, dermatitis, cancer or asthma;
  • it is possible to detect the disease/adverse health effect;
  • the techniques for detecting the disease/adverse health effect pose no risk to employees.

The aim of occupational health surveillance is not only to carry out tests, questionnaires or examinations, but to interpret these results and take action to eliminate or control further risk where necessary. The findings can also provide some reassurance that control measures are effective.

Health surveillance may also involve employees self-checking for signs or symptoms of ill health associated with workplace risk. In this case, a training session should be carried out to ensure employees are looking out for the correct signs and symptoms, and know of the appropriate action to take should they detect these signs or symptoms.

Alternatively, a staff member could be trained to carry out such checks. For more complex assessments, an occupational health nurse or doctor can carry out examinations or ask about symptoms.

Statutory medical surveillance (that must be carried out by a doctor appointed by the HSE) is required to be part of the health surveillance /medical programme by law when certain high-hazard substances are present in the workplace. These substances include:

Further information and guidance on health surveillance can be found on the HSE website. For free, expert and impartial work-related health advice, call the Fit for Work Advice Line on 0800 032 6235 or visit our website.  (Manufacturers based in the West Midlands can access manufacturing-specific resources on the Fit for Work website.)


  1. Mai

    The proplem with this is that most of companies make risk assessment in way that they don’t assess the real risk in order to not do anything. Who controls that risk assessment are properly doing in every company?

    • Fit for Work team

      Hi Mai,
      Thank you for your query. It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that risk assessments are adequate and appropriate, and are undertaken by an appropriately qualified or experienced person. I would suggest that if you feel that risk assessments are not being adequately undertaken you discuss this further with your employer and express your concerns. There is a good deal of information about risk assessments, including where health surveillance is required, available on the HSE website The HSE are ultimately responsible for enforcement of relevant health and safety regulations.
      The Fit for Work team

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