Occupational Health

Occupational health services include health exams such as employment physicals to check that staff can perform required job functions, antibody tests that check for immunity to communicable diseases, and vaccinations for employees who don't already have antibodies. Employers often require that staff get the various lab tests and examinations that are relevant to their industry or the employee's job type to ensure the workplace is safe for everyone.

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Occupational health services help employers ensure the safety of their workplace. There are several reasons why employers may wish to obtain occupational health screenings, lab tests, or physical exams for their new or existing staff. For example:

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Companies may require staff to get medical exams, vaccinations, and/or laboratory tests to ensure that they meet standards to perform their job safely.
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Businesses may need their employees to demonstrate immunity to various infectious diseases in order to be sure that they will not infect other staff or customers.
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Companies may need to ensure that employees are physically able to perform necessary tasks without causing harm to themselves or others.

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Occupational health services include blood tests such as antibody tests (titers), employment physicals, lift tests, respiratory function assessments, TB tests, virus tests, and immunizations. Employers can require employees to take an occupational health exam on a pre-employment basis, annually, or at any other point as the need requires. Many times, government regulations from agencies such as state health departments or the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) will define the requirements for who needs to be tested and how often those screenings must occur.

Occupational health screenings are an important way for employers to keep everyone in the workplace safe from injury, illness, and even infectious disease. In 2020, the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, which caused broad shutdowns of work sites across the country, highlighted just how important it is for employers to screen staff for contagious and dangerous viruses. It also showed how occupational health services provide protection from hazards. For example, respirator fit tests help ensure that N-95 masks have the optimal fit and protection for the employee wearing it.

What is an occupational health screening?

Occupational health screenings can be divided into a few different categories based on the reason they are requested and the type of tests required. In general, occupational health exams are concerned with making sure that an employee (or job applicant) can carry out their required tasks without incurring any harm to themselves or causing harm to others. The four main reasons an employer can require an occupational health service of an employee or applicant are:

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To determine current health status.
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To confirm that job-specific tasks can be physically completed.
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To assess any risks that employees may present to others in the workplace.
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To identify any dangers that could impact staff or customer wellbeing.

Occupational Health Testing Methods

Common occupational health testing methods that are used by employers include the following:

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Physicals (DOT or non-DOT)
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Medical surveillance exams to make sure employees are staying safe in hazardous environments.
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Preventative screenings to help identify health risk factors of employees before they become serious. 

The choice of a testing method to complete a particular occupational health exam is dependent on the reason for completing the screening. When choosing screening requirements, employers and health care providers must adhere to restrictions as laid out in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

What is tested in an occupational health screening exam?

Several types of occupational health screenings can be required of an employee depending on the demands of their job. Testing standards are overseen by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), created as part of the U.S. Department of Labor in 1970. Employers that are unsure of their requirements may wish to consult with an OSHA specialized health care provider to determine which tests are most appropriate for their needs. Common occupational health screenings include:

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Antibody testing (blood tests to check for immunity)
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Respiratory health screening (respirator fit tests, chest x-rays, etc.)
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Tuberculosis (TB) tests (PPD or blood test)
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Vaccines and Immunizations (Hep A/B/C, MMR, Varicella, etc.)
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Workplace Wellness Exams (Biometrics, CBC, Lipid Profile)

When can employers require workers to take an occupational health screening test? 

Depending on a worker’s role, there are generally five times an employer can request an exam:

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During the application phase.
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Periodically throughout employment.
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Upon returning to work after a prolonged absence.
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After a workplace incident or dangerous event.
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As part of an exit screening.

Employers usually request health screenings during the application phase to ensure that a potential employee can safely fulfill their necessary tasks. Periodic tests can be required to make sure an employee is maintaining the necessary health standards to complete their job, for example, on an annual basis.

After an employee has been on leave or in a hazardous environment, employers can require health surveillance screenings to ensure they have remained healthy and/or that they can resume meeting the physical demands of the occupation. Employees who work with hazardous materials or in dangerous environments can also be asked to complete a screening before leaving a position to verify their health status, and document if they were impacted in any way by on-the-job exposure.

Why are occupational health screening exams important for employers and workers?

Occupational health screenings are intended to keep both employees and those around them safe from potential injury or illness. The OSHA requirements concerning health screenings were written specifically to keep employees safe while also shielding employers from liability due to negligence.

Preventative health screenings can help employees stop issues before they become problems, while health maintenance exams can help prevent employees from getting hurt or sick on the job. Event-based health screenings can save the life of a worker and those they come into contact with.

Occupational health screenings are an important part of the country’s response to the recent outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. Health workers, airline personnel, border patrol, lab technicians, and other employees who come into contact with virus victims are required to undergo federally regulated health screenings to ensure that they have not contracted the virus and become capable of contributing to its spread. More up-to-date information about the coronavirus is available directly from the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

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Citations

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“The Occupational Health Professional’s Services and Qualifications: Questions and Answers.” Occupational Safety & Health Administration, United States Department of Labor, OSHA 3160, 1999, https://www.osha.gov/Publications/QandA/osha3160.html
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“COVID-19.” Occupational Safety & Health Administration, United States Department of Labor, https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/
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“COVID-19: Standards.” Occupational Safety & Health Administration, United States Department of Labor, https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/standards.html
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“Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
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Pereira, Tori, “What Employers Need to Know about Occupational Health.” Concentra, 4 September 2019, https://www.concentra.com/resource-center/articles/what-employers-need-to-know-about-occupational-health/
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“Secure, Fast, and Objective Drug Testing.” Concentra, https://www.concentra.com/tests-and-screenings/drug-testing/
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“An Ultimate Guide to Occupational Health Screening.” KUDUwave, https://blog.kuduwave.com/occupational-health-screening