Last reviewed 8 December 2015

As part of our health surveillance system, we wish to ensure that we keep appropriate health records. Are there any specific requirements in relation to the keeping of such records?

The keeping of suitable health records constitutes an important element of any health surveillance programme. Such records provide:

  • An historical record of jobs involving exposure to substances or processes requiring health surveillance

  • A record of the outcome of previous health surveillance procedures (in terms of fitness for work, restrictions required etc)

  • Information for enforcing officers to show that health surveillance has been carried out

Clearly, health records should be systematically completed every time health surveillance is undertaken. As well as employee identification details, the health record should contain:

  • The date that employment started

  • The date of surveillance as well as identification of person completing the surveillance

  • An historical record of jobs involving exposure to hazards for which health surveillance is required

  • Outcome of previous health surveillance in terms of fitness for work, and any restrictions required

  • Conclusions of the health surveillance procedure including if the individual is fit to continue to work

Health records differ to clinical health records in that they do not contain confidential clinical details. As such health records may be kept securely with other confidential personnel records whereas clinical records must be held in confidence by an occupational health professional and can only be released with the written consent of the individual that they relate to.

As a general rule, individual health records should be retained for as long as the employee is under health surveillance but it is good practice to retain copies during the whole of the employment period. Some regulations (such as COSHH) require employers to keep health records for at least 40 years. It is also good practice to offer individual employees a copy of their health records when they leave the organisation.

Health records may be kept in any format, (paper or electronically). Where records are kept electronically, employers should ensure that they have a suitable back-up system that allows access to copies of the records in the event of a serious computer system failure.

It should also be borne in mind that health records should be kept in accordance with any requirements relating to the Data Protection Act 1998. In particular, employers should inform those on whom records are held that a record is being kept, what the purpose of keeping it is and that they have a right to see the information and correct it if necessary.