Pre-Placement Health Screening for that New Job

Employment law in the UK makes it illegal to use medical tests or questions as a means of stopping candidates from getting a job.  Health enquiries should follow an offer of employment (subject to medical and references).  Many are confused about when to ask capability questions because if say, a crane operator can’t stand heights then the interviewer (and the candidate), need to explore this from a practical point of view. Because of the difficulty employers have in recruiting and acting fairly in this area guidance is available from The Equality and Human Rights website that sets out exactly what you can and can’t discuss in job interviews.

Unfortunately changing the name and the process has not taken away the belief that the OH professional decide whether people can or can’t do a job, that is, applicants are fit or unfit for work. This is not the case, in my career having done hundreds; I can tell you that only one or two applicants were ever medically unfit for a job.  Most applicants are fully fit for the job and some need minor adjustments e.g. spectacles or blood pressure medication.

a person having their blood pressure checkedPre-placement health screening is like a risk assessment on an individual, ensuring the job fits the individual with necessary or reasonable adjustments, rather than the commonly held assumption that it’s to exclude workers.

High-risk occupations (e.g., pilots, train drivers) require OH services by law and some work requires careful monitoring of staff (e.g., asbestos or lead workers).

See also: Consent in Occupational Health

In low risk work (administration, call centre staff) preplacement screening can be as simple as signing a health declaration which a suitably trained person checks for known health problems or adjustments required.

A Simple Non-Confidential Pre-Placement Health Questionnaire

1 Do you need any special adaptations or aids to assist you at work whether or not you have a disability? Yes No
2 Are you having or waiting for treatment or investigations of any kind at present? Yes No
3 Do you or have you ever had any health problems which have been caused or made worse by your work? Yes No
If applicant answers ‘yes’ to any of the above, do not enquire into the reasons but make an appointment for them to see the Occupational Health Doctor or Nurse to have a full discussion
Signed: Dated:

Why do Pre-placement health screening:

  • Establishing baseline health records (useful for measuring health when starting a new job and before exposure to health risks)
  • Identifying reasonable adjustments to the work or the working environment
  • Explaining specific health risks and requirements for each job
  • Complying with health and safety procedures eg demonstrating how to insert ear plugs, reporting health problems caused by work
  • Changing of work role e.g. from a warehouse operator to a forklift truck driver where the health requirements may be more onerous eg vision, hearing
  • Exposing new starters to the health and safety culture of a business
  • Assessing specific groups of workers for extra precautions eg pregnant, young workers, asthmatics

Meaningful pre-placement health screening depends on the initial health and safety risk assessment setting out the requirements of the job, mitigation of health risks where possible and identifying areas of high risk.  With this information, pre-placement health screening can begin.

Further Advice and Reading