COMPLYING WITH the law of the country where you have your business helps to keep your workforce in adequate health to carry out their specific jobs. Maintaining an adequate working environment will also help achieve maximum performance. The problems related to hygiene, safety and health in the workplace, especially work accidents, are global and concern modern society throughout the world.
In this day and age, when competitiveness, dynamism and corporate strategy are a necessity, presenting the best results and guaranteeing continued satisfaction for clients and investors are crucial objectives to any company. The working conditions offered to the workforce contribute greatly to these objectives.
Trends today, in both society and in what concerns the organisation of the workplace, create new risks and, therefore, impose new demands on investigation into the area of hygiene, safety and health in the workplace (occupational health).
In Portugal, as in many other countries, the necessity for accident prevention is recognised as a crucial factor for efficiency and productivity in any type of business, leading to the adoption of diverse legislation to help establish the obligations of both employer and employee. Due to this, there is the obligation for each company, establishment or service to have the technical support of a specialised department.
This department can be implemented within the organisation, if it has the technical capacity for this, or an external specialised company can be contracted.
Two components should be considered – hygiene and safety, and health in the workplace. They are complementary and interact with each other, promoting the fight against accidents in the workplace, preventing professional risks and protecting health. Essentially, it is considered that the promotion of health, hygiene and security in the workplace should be interpreted as an overall intervention and integration, involving all employees and sectors of the company.
There is a permanent partnership between the occupational health team and the hygiene and safety team, with the objective of eliminating or reducing, if elimination is not possible, the existing risks to the workforce.
Hygiene and safety
It is fundamental to promote a good working environment, where the employees will be capable of performing their jobs to the best of their abilities under guaranteed security. This can be done by identifying the dangers and risks inherent in the installations and the production process of the company, which includes machines, equipment, materials, products, organisation and other characteristics of various activities. This assessment is carried out under the direction of specialised technicians, who evaluate the existing and/or potential risks, namely chemical, physical and biological, and consequently provide written documents such as reports, manuals and plans, which are given to the business’s management, outlining the respective preventative or corrective proposals.
In summary, the specialist team assesses the company in every aspect relating to the prevention of risks in the workplace. To improve the management of a company’s security and the promotion of health in the workforce, we need to stop, think and act. We need to understand that if we do not act to change the situation, then there will be a chain of permanent, repetitive accidents that will carry on indefinitely.
Health in the workplace
One of the responsibilities of occupational health is to gauge the physical and psychological aptitude of the employee in their job, therefore encouraging ways of adapting a specific task to each individual, so that it can be carried out in the most efficient way.
The technical responsibility of health screening is always the duty of the occupational health team – doctors, nurses and technicians who perform complementary tests.
The medical examination has to be viewed differently from a so-called ‘normal consultation’ as the person is not seeking consultation for any specific ailment or for a routine prevention “check-up”.
The specific job of occupational health doctors is not to treat diseases but to assess, after a thorough clinical examination, if a specific worker with his/her own specific health characteristics is adequate for his/her job and able to perform the tasks that he/she is assigned to.
Although medical exams can be carried out outside the company, the health team has to be aware of the basic components of the job that can influence the health of the employees.
It is also the responsibility of the occupational health doctor to ensure that the correct number of hours necessary to carry out consultations, both routine and emergency, is available to the workforce.
The medical examination is determined as a legal obligation, but there are no complementary exams set down by law that should accompany the medical examination, such as clinical analyses, X-ray, ECG, and so on, so it will depend on the level of service accuracy that the business considers is suitable to the needs of the company.
Nevertheless, the occupational health doctor should always take the initiative of referring the employee to his/her family doctor/GP whenever it becomes relevant to clarify any clinical problems found during the medical examination. This can be with further complementary exams or through referral to an appropriate medical specialist. The results obtained will help to form a much more concrete opinion about the worker’s state of health and also, using the combined action of both doctors, to treat and control any previously unknown or ignored health problems, thus resulting in a better performance of the worker.
Besides the admittance exams before commencing work, or within the first 10 days of the worker commencing his employment, there are periodic exams depending on the age of the employee and also incidental exams. These are always done when there are significant changes in the means, environment or organisation of work, which could have harmful repercussions on the worker, and also when there is a return to work after an absence of 30 days due to illness or an accident at work.
The clinical observations are kept in personal files and are subject to professional confidentiality. As such, they can only be seen by the health authorities or the medical staff of the Inspector General of Industry. The results of the medical examinations carried out are sent to the companies in the form of an Aptitude File approved by a government order of the Ministry of Health.
A productive obligation
Promoting the fight against accidents in the workplace, preventing professional risks and protecting health is the right and obligation of everyone. Besides the legal aspect, establishing a well grounded programme of professional risk prevention will contribute greatly towards a reduction in absenteeism and accidents, therefore increasing the competitiveness of any organisation, private or public, and raising motivation among the workforce, which in turn will increase productivity.
Occupational health must not be seen as one more complication, purely created to waste time and money, giving even more headaches to all business managers, but should be viewed as an important tool to become more competitive, more stable and to stand out in a market where competition is, more than ever, high and demanding.
• Luzdoc – International Medical Service provides a certified service in the areas of environmental health, occupational medicine, hygiene and safety. We aim to enable you to take action and manage your business swiftly and effectively.