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Medical Care Work Safety

Medical Care and the Workplace

Medical Medical care should start with evaluating workers who are being considered for particularly demanding jobs or jobs that involve the safety of others.

Medical examination ensures their capacity to do the job safely, protects the safety of people who may depend on them, determines their current state of health so that changes can be identified later, and determines if they have a medical problem that the work may make worse.

Good medical care (which is often hard to find) can help prevent harmful effects that may occur after an accident or exposure to a harmful substance but by then the damage is already done.

Having workers examined every year by a physician or nurse and having laboratory tests done is a good thing for their health but alone it is unreliable to find illnesses that come out of workplace exposures.

It also does nothing to prevent accidents. Still, it is one way to protect workers, to keep a situation from getting worse, and to ensure that your protective measures are working. That is why it is required by law in many countries.

If the doctor or nurse knows about “occupational diseases” they can look for them and advise you on what tests are needed. If the doctor or nurse does not have this specialized knowledge, please encourage them to get it and help them if you can.

There are certain specific tests that can be done to check workers for dangerous effects of exposure to chemicals. The most commonly available are blood tests for lead and for a certain type of pesticide (organophosphates).

When tests are done from time to time (say, once a year) to check on whether workers are still healthy or are showing signs of a work-related disease, it is called “medical monitoring” (or “surveillance”). Most other tests require the doctor or nurse to know a lot more about occupational diseases.

For example, the chest x-ray is a basic test available in hospitals and clinics.

But interpretation of the chest x-ray, for example being able to tell tuberculosis or cancer from occupational lung disease like asbestos (a serious lung disease caused by all forms of asbestos) or silicosis (another serious disease caused by rock or sand dust) requires that the doctor know what he or she is looking at.

The World Health Organization is pushing hard to make basic occupational health services available through the primary health care system in all countries. However, not many doctors and nurses know a lot about these things.

If you are in a position to help your workers get medical care, consider asking the doctors in your community how much experience they have had with chemicals, work-related diseases, and how to prevent disability after injury.

What to Do If an Exposure Is Causing an Illness

If medical monitoring proves that your employees are overexposed to a certain chemical, such as lead or a solvent, you should tell the employees. Most workers will understand if there has been a hazard that is newly discovered, but they could get angry if they think that information on their health has been held back from them.

It is important to have open communication with your workers and ask them to help propose solutions. Nobody knows better how a job is actually done than the person doing the job. Workers often have good ideas on how to correct problems, but too often supervisors do not ask them.

When presenting the problem to the employees you should suggest ways you will fix the problem, and ask for their opinion on whether it will work. To fix the problem, you must locate the source of the exposure hazard and determine how big a risk it is.