The Occupational Health and Safety Act and Regulations 85 of 1993, defines medical surveillance as:
“A planned program or periodic examination, which may include clinical examinations, biological monitoring or medical tests of employees by an occupational health practitioner or in prescribed cases, by an occupational medicine practitioner.”
These medical tests could be x-rays, hearing tests, or biological monitoring. It is applied only to detect negative effects of specific workplace hazards. It is not a general health check by a doctor that will pick up every illness.
Medical surveillance is required by law to be carried out in workplaces where workers are exposed to particular hazards. The particular hazards that require medical surveillance include noise, asbestos, certain chemicals, certain biological agents, and lead. It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that the medical surveillance is carried out and the employer must pay for the service of a medical professional.
Only an occupational health practitioner who is a doctor or nurse with qualification in occupational medicine can do a medical surveillance program. Medical surveillance should be done systematically, as part of a program where the tests are repeated at regular intervals. Its purpose is to watch out for early signs of work-related illnesses in employees who are exposed to certain hazards.
It is meant to play a monitoring role, to monitor whether preventative measures are failing or not and to identify any early signs of exposure to a hazard in the body. It is not meant to be preventative, and it is not a general medical check-up