What Is an Occupational Health Check?

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  • 0:00 Occupational Health…
  • 1:54 Pre-Employment Health…
  • 3:07 The Law
  • 4:20 Random Drug Testing
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Andrea Rea

Andrea is a practicing attorney and MBA with 15 years experience in health care administration, litigation and business law.

Expert Contributor
Joseph Shinn

Joe has a PhD in Economics from Temple University and has been teaching college-level courses for 10 years.

Some employers require prospective employees to take a pre-employment physical before the employee can start work. Learn more about employee health screenings and when employers are and are not permitted to ask medical questions.

Occupational Health Check Defined

Occupational health check is a term used to describe a variety of employee health screenings required by employers. The primary purpose is to prevent work-related injuries and disease.

Occupational health checks are most commonly used to determine whether an individual is physically suited for a particular job. Some jobs require special physical ability, such as those involving heavy lifting or other physical exertion. Think of a firefighter's job duties compared to an office worker. Employee health screenings can also identify pre-existing conditions which make an employee more susceptible to the effects of hazardous substances or other risks on the job.

Occupational health checks can be required at various stages of the employment relationship, starting before a new hire is assigned to particular job. These health screenings are generally used for the following purposes:

  1. To establish that candidates are able to meet the physical requirements of the job prior to assignment
  2. To monitor health status at periodic intervals when the job involves exposure to potential health hazards
  3. To establish that employees are able to return to work after a prolonged absence for health reasons
  4. To establish the conditions under which employees with illnesses, injuries or disabilities are able to continue working

Workers who have been exposed to occupational hazards such as toxins or other substances are sometimes given medical examinations to manage the lasting health effects. Periodic health examinations of employees can reveal the existence of health hazards in the workplace and allow the employer to make changes to improve worker health and safety. Sometimes special health screenings are conducted after the end of an assignment involving hazards that might cause future health impairment.

Pre-Employment Health Screening

A pre-employment health screening is an exam usually performed by a health care professional to determine if an employee is medically fit for the job and the specific duties required. The pre-employment exam may include a routine history and physical, drug screening and/or complete lab work. Employees may also be required to perform physical ability tests to measure their ability to perform a particular task. The purpose is to determine where the employee can be placed to function at his or her best without risk of injury. Blood test results and other clinical information can also be used to establish a baseline at the start of employment. This information can be used to evaluate changes in health status that may occur later on.

Perhaps most importantly, the results of pre-employment physicals should be used to place workers in jobs that are well suited for their health, and not to screen out workers for improper purposes. The physical examination must be related to the job the applicant will be doing. Psychological testing is also required in some occupations where workers are exposed to high levels of stress: for example, air traffic controllers and law enforcement personnel.

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Additional Activities

Additional Questions

  1. What is an occupational health check?
  2. What is the role of an employee's firm in occupational health checks?
  3. List and describe the four primary purposes of occupational health checks. In providing your answer, be sure to discuss the reasoning behind these different purposes.
  4. What are pre-employment health screenings? Why might employers require them?
  5. Provide an example of an employer who might require a physical ability test. Describe this test and explain why the employer would want to have potential new employees take this test prior to being hired.
  6. What is the American with Disabilities Act? How does this Act relate to the questions that employers can ask employees?
  7. Does the American with Disabilities prohibit employers from asking disabled employees if they would be able to perform the primary functions of a job? Why or why not?
  8. Why might employers require potential employees to agree to random drug tests while they are employed? Is this a legal practice?
  9. What are some occupations where occupational health checks would be more prevalent? What about occupations where they would likely be less prevalent? In giving your answers, be sure to explain why you think they would be more or less prevalent.

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