by: Dr. Keith Holder
An important program for industry is preventive maintenance for facilities and machinery. Preventive maintenance programs accomplish more than the routine servicing of equipment.
Maintaining machinery is less expensive than incurring the cost of emergency repairs. In other words, downtime is shortened making the effort of preventive maintenance efficient and cost-effective.
Similarly, programs of preventive medical services for workers are recommended. These can identify illnesses early and help reduce the risk of a diagnosis being complicated by mounting health problems. A medical surveillance program at each business is based on the health hazards present.
Exposure to chemicals or metals can cause changes in blood chemistry, and this is an example of medical surveillance. Companies have placed an emphasis on engineering out the specific health hazard in order to reduce worker exposure to elevated levels of chemicals or metals. While this is more expensive initially, it pays dividends later.
The nitty gritty These engineering controls sometimes depend on properly maintained machines. Occasionally we will find that the machinery is not being properly maintained when routine medical surveillance of an exposed employee’s blood chemistry is performed.
Overlapping preventive maintenance programs (one for the machine and one for the worker) most effectively protect a worker’s health. When everyone is trained on the relationship of each program function, then it is cost-efficient for the business.
In his book Good to Create, Jim Collins explains that successful business leaders have come to realize that technology can help in the necessary education of their employees. These successful businesses have used technology to show their employees the interconnection of various preventive maintenance programs within the business. The technology keeps everyone – from the manager to the machine operator – informed about the current functioning of plant machinery and the employee health processes. These processes are in a constant state of movement which, when monitored effectively, can identify problems early.
Examples Trucking companies have the ability to monitor the location of each truck and the operation of that truck’s engine. There have been pilot programs designed to monitor a driver’s wakefulness while driving–the intent being to help the driver stay awake and alert.
Another preventive measure taken by some trucking companies is to screen all prospective drivers for sleep apnea and then treat them. The critical step is not just identifying the problem but monitoring the use of the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, or CPAP, machine used to treat the condition. If there is an effective monitoring program in place, then any problem related to the use and functioning of the CPAP machine is caught early.
Our clinic routinely asks for the CPAP report of the driver being treated for sleep apnea to ensure program effectiveness. Sometimes, it is necessary to educate drivers and/or company people about the importance of treating the condition–not only from the standpoint of the driver’s personal safety, but also for the driver’s health. Working closely with businesses in planning, implementing, and monitoring preventive programs helps businesses succeed while helping the employees remain healthy.
Dr. Holder joined Cooper Clinic in 1997 and established the Occupational Medicine Department. A graduate of the University of Arkansas School of Medical Sciences, Little Rock, he completed his Occupational Medicine residency at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD. Dr. Holder is Board Certified by the American Board of Preventive Medicine specializing in Occupational Medicine.