Reducing costs Featured

11:08am EDT May 12, 2003
Business owners are familiar with business and quality improvement cycles that may result in reduced costs, increased productivity and improved profitability. Occupational safety and health programs can benefit from the application of those same fundamental business principles.

The average cost of an Ohio workers' compensation claim in 2001 was nearly $40,000, with almost 60 percent relating directly to medical expenses. As organizations try to manage costs, an occupational health screening program becomes critical for monitoring, providing feedback and establishing improvements in safety and health programs.

An effective prevention program requires an understanding of workplace exposures, anticipation of potential harm and evaluation of individual incidents and illness patterns. Experience is used to modify programs or implement new ones, and occupational health screening provides the tools to evaluate incidents.

Occupational health associates establish a frequency of medical evaluations to include baseline, periodic, following an emergency and/or prior to termination. they establish medical screening parameters to assist with identifying symptoms that may be early indications of chemical or physical exposures in the workplace.

The frequency of evaluations and medical tests provides data to examine for patterns and individual susceptibility. A relationship between low-level exposure and early health effects may be found using medical information and employee exposure data.

With proper diagnosis and communication, workplace changes may reduce or eliminate occupational illnesses.

Another component is the implementation of regulatory requirements established by OSHA for industries that use specific chemicals. Each standard is different, but many require baseline, emergency, periodic and termination medical surveillance programs along with employee education, industrial hygiene monitoring and control measures. Programs should be established in conjunction with the occupational health professional and the facility industrial hygienist.

Once the basics are in place, the medical surveillance program can be expanded to monitor personal health issues and provide counseling for healthier lifestyles in an effort to reduce absenteeism and increase productivity. For assistance evaluating your medical screening program, talk to an industrial hygiene and safety consultant or an occupational medicine clinic. Dianne Grote Adams is president of Emilcott/DGA Inc. Reach her at (614) 890-0800 or