Do you know which one you are doing? — Health and security at work

Medical surveillance vs medical screening

These are often used interchangeably, but there is a distinct difference that is often misunderstood.

When you ask companies why they are doing medical screening or surveillance, the typical response is “Because we have to.” This is often the correct answer, as OSHA and other regulatory bodies require medical surveillance and / or screening programs for certain workplace exposures. Companies across the United States are spending a lot of money on these programs and the cost is on the rise. Unfortunately, many of them fail to manage their programs effectively, resulting in a widespread failure to identify, reduce or eliminate hazards before serious damage is done to their employees or until a serious liability does occur. The best approach to avoid this and realize the real benefits of these programs is for companies to fully understand the objectives of the program and have a working knowledge of the complexities of the program, which requires a multidisciplinary team of internal and external contributors.

One of the most basic things to know is the difference between medical surveillance and medical screening programs. These are often used interchangeably, but there is a distinct difference that is often misunderstood.

Medical screening, in general, focuses on the individual worker and consists of a periodic “screening” examination and assessment, which is performed not because an employee is showing symptoms of illness, but because he or she is potentially. exposed to one or more known hazards in the workplace. . Medical screening can consist of a physical examination, a detailed personal and professional history, and a number of tests used for biological monitoring. It can include blood tests, X-ray imaging, lung function tests (spirometry), EKGs, and more. It provides a snapshot over time that can be useful in identifying potential health effects before the employee even exhibits symptoms or has any clue that there might be a problem. Medical screening is useful in the early identification of disease, allowing early intervention (usually through withdrawal from continued exposure) and / or treatment of disease or major risk factors.

This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Occupational Health and Safety.

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