April 1, 2020

COVID-19 UK: Safety, Health and Environment (SHE) Regulatory - Health and medical surveillance

Faced with a health pandemic, relaxing the requirements on health and medical surveillance might at first blush sound counter-intuitive. In this article, we set out below the guidance[1] issued by the Health and Safety Executive ("HSE") allowing a proportionate and flexible approach to enable health and medical surveillance during this unprecedented crisis.

Protecting health, safety and welfare

The guidance aims to balance the current constraints presented by the COVID-19 outbreak and the need to protect the health, safety and welfare of workers.

The HSE states that this guidance "applies where workers are undergoing periodic review under several sets of health & safety regulations". We set out below key considerations for the regulations identified.

Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005

Providing the worker does not identify any relevant problems, audiometry can be deferred for a period of three months.

Where there is a problem, a review can be undertaken by telephone and then a judgement can be made on whether to see the worker face-to-face and, if so, how to do so safely.

Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005

The usual tiered approach to health surveillance will apply and questionnaires can be administered remotely.

Where there is a problem, a review can be undertaken by telephone and then a judgment can be made on whether to see the worker face-to-face and, if so, how to do so safely.

Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 ("COSHH")

For health surveillance required by COSHH Regulation 11:

  • The assessment can be undertaken as a paper review by administering the appropriate health questionnaire (for example, respiratory) remotely.

  • If no problems are identified, then a full assessment can be deferred for three months.

  • Those with problems can be assessed further, for example, by telephone in the first instance.

  • A judgement can then be made on whether to see the worker face-to-face and, if so, have to do so safely.

For medical surveillance under Schedule 6:

  • The appointed doctor can use discretion to determine the content of the review.

  • They can perform a telephone review and, if there are no problems, schedule a full review three months later.

  • Where there is a problem, a judgement can then be made on whether to see the worker face-to-face and, if so, how to do safely.

Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 ("CAR")

To undertake medical surveillance under CAR:

  • Appointed doctors can establish the worker has no significant symptoms by using a respiratory symptom questionnaire undertaken remotely.

  • Providing there are no problems, they can then issue a new certificate for three months.

  • Those with problems can be assessed further, for example, by telephone in the first instance.

  • A judgement can then be made on whether to see the worker face-to-face and, if so, how to do so safely.

Ionising Radiations Regulations 2017 ("IRR")

For routine medical surveillance of classified persons under IRR, the appointed doctor can conduct a paper review.

For high risk radiation workers (such as industrial radiographers), or those classified persons at the end of the five-year cycle where a face-to-face review is planned:

  • The appointed doctor can carry out a telephone consultation and review the dose records and sickness absence records.

  • If there are no problems, a follow-up face-to-face review can be scheduled three months later.

  • Where there is a problem, a judgment can then be made on whether to see the worker face-to-face and, if so, how to do so safely.

Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002 ("CLAW")

For medical surveillance under CLAW:

  • Where workers continue to be significantly exposed to lead, blood tests should continue.
  • However, where a worker has been having annual blood tests, their blood lead level is low and stable and their risks from exposure to lead have not changed, the blood test can be deferred for three months.

Where a worker's periodical medical assessment is due:

  • The appointed doctor can assess them by telephone.
  • Provided there are no problems, the next full review can be scheduled three months later.
  • Where there is a problem, a judgement can then be made on whether to see the worker face-to-face and, if so, how to do so safely.

Next steps

As with all guidance being issued by government bodies at this time, and given the constantly evolving nature of this pandemic, the HSE's guidance is subject to review. Whilst we have set out above the current guidance as at the date of this article, employers should continue to monitor the HSE's website closely for any changes.

Author: Rod Hunt, Partner.

If you would like to discuss any aspect of this article further, please get in touch with a member of our team at sheregulatory@clydeco.com

[1] https://www.hse.gov.uk/news/health-surveillance-coronavirus.htm