Investigating the incidence and nature of health complaints

Female VDU employee

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Back pain during office work
Source: Gina Sanders, fotolia

Health complaints usually prompt the question of whether they have been brought on by adverse workplace conditions. However, it is practically impossible to identify one single event as the cause except in the case of an accident. For the most part, several factors are involved and the way people experience health complaints differs significantly. Consequently, documenting the symptoms the affected employees describe is not as simple as determining, for example, when a house was built.

The preliminary workplace inspection as part of a health complaint investigation can be used to interview those involved and thus gain an initial impression of the nature of the health complaints, the number of employees affected and the suspected causes. The questionnaire shown in Section 2.2 of the report Indoor workplaces can be used to prepare for the interviews. Questionnaire G1, which covers health conditions in the workplace, permits a more comprehensive investigation of health complaints.

Based on the results specific investigations on the different issue(s) can then be carried out independently. If required, special occupational medical investigations and further diagnostic measures can also be initiated on the basis of the findings.

The procedure for special occupational medical investigations cannot be adequately described in the form of questionnaires and flowcharts. People’s health is generally influenced not only by their workplace but also, to a significant degree, by factors such as individual constitution, medical history, home/family life, lifestyle and consumption habits. Consequently, the procedure and diagnosis usually need to be tailored to each specific case. Since confidential matters and personal data are involved, the organisation's occupational physician should be responsible for coordinating these investigations. He or she will know the employee in question and be familiar with the adverse health effects of their workplace and their general state of health. Ideally, he or she should work closely with the employee's family doctor who can disclose information on any health complaints the employee might have that are not related to the workplace.

Form S1 can be used for the special occupational medical investigations. The form covers the health situation outside the workplace. However, it yields only limited information on conceivable and typical causes.