Medical Surveillance for Workers’ Health

Yet more evidence points to the fact that anybody working in commercial coffee manufacturing – or, indeed, local cafes – should be concerned for their health. A study of workers at a coffee roastery showed they had wheezing in their chests at four times the rate of a similar demographic not working in that environment.

Those on the production line doing fairly innocuous tasks like roasting, scooping beans, grinding and packaging coffee are thought to be at risk of developing sinus and other mucous membrane symptoms thanks to their close associated with green coffee dust, chaff and roasted coffee dust, according to the study.

A third of the workers screened had abnormal breathing tests, with the likely culprits two volatile organic compounds – diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione – found in the production process.

In fact, it is diacetyl that has been blamed for many injuries and some deaths in the microwave popcorn industry during the early 2000s.

Had a medical screening process not been carried out at the coffee production facility, the business in question would never have known the condition of its employees. And it would have been unable to change its practices to protect its staff in the future, as well as itself from any potential legal action brought by unwell workers.

Medical surveillance is the assessment of employees exposed, or potentially exposed, to occupational hazards. By carrying out an assessment of your workers, you can monitor individuals for any adverse health effects and determine how much, if at all, their work is contributing to poor health, allowing you to develop exposure prevention strategies in the process.

Yes, new advances in healthcare and medicines can help keep our staff strong, fit and well enough to carry out tasks demand of them. But increasingly it is seen as the employers’ role to ensure that steps are taken to stay on top of the health of their employees, especially if they happen to work in dangerous or hazardous workplaces and environments.

And this is where medical surveillance programs can play a key role. In a nutshell, they allow you to take snapshots in time of the state of your workforce’s health across the years that they are under your employment.

Ultimately, you can use that data to reduce illnesses and injuries brought about by the work they are carrying out. This is especially important if those workers are exposed to harmful chemicals, high radiation levels, or they are using potentially hazardous equipment and machinery.

Companies can do this by sending staff to their family doctor to do a medical surveillance exam. This will collect health data and give some analysis. These medical exams are generally carried out between once and three times a year and assessed as to what is deemed to be ‘normal’ or ‘satisfactory’ against current medical standards. If an employee’s health falls below this, the company can decide whether it needs to take measures to change operational processes or intervene in another way (perhaps by moving staff onto different jobs within the business, for example).

Medical surveillance exams can include everything from hearing and blood tests to examinations of specific joint pain. The results can help you to uncover illness or disease in your workforce, and assess which areas of the body you need to monitor more carefully.

Crucially, medical surveillance programs can help determine whether injuries are self-inflicted by employees not taking care of themselves, or if they are work related. This can help you to limit workers compensation where necessary, while helping to keep employees healthy, happy and productive.