A recent decision to remove the mandatory requirement for companies to carry out hearing and breathing tests as part of the” fitness for work” assessment process might have further consequences for certain aspects of employee health and safety and potential injury compensation.
The announcement in September 2012 by Constructing Better Health (CBH), the national scheme for the management of occupational health in the construction industry, followed a feedback study into ‘safety-critical’ health check requirements affecting certain construction projects.
The CBH investigation into ‘fitness-to-work’ from an extensive industry consultation concluded that both hearing and breathing tests “add considerable time and cost to the health check...and that common awareness of health and safety risks among construction professionals has reached a level that the mandatory element of the testing could be dismissed.”
While industry health and safety practices have undoubtedly improved, it certainly was not the case for most of the twentieth century, when as recently as the 1980s and 90s, many companies failed to even recognise there was a problem with excessive noise or dangerous levels of air contamination. As a result, around 10 million people today possess some form of hearing loss and over three quarters of a million suffer with severely impaired hearing.
There are still many industry sectors, which still exist today where unsafe working practices are allowed to persist and where serious breathing or hearing problems account for around three quarters of all workplace personal injury claims.
As a result of the CBH changes, hearing and breathing tests will be optional and only to be used in an individual risk evaluation when evidence is required that their hearing and physical capability is sufficient in circumstances where emergency reaction and escape is required.
However, under the Control of Noise at Work Regulations and Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations, both audiometry (hearing tests) and spirometry (breathing tests) will continue to be a mandatory requirement for health surveillance.
A further change implemented by the CBH affects the requirement for mandatory drug and alcohol testing as part of the safety critical health check. The standard has also been amended to allow individual companies to have the option for testing under the employers /contractors’ own risk assessment process.