Occupational Physician Consulting Services

Occupational Medicine is a branch of medicine that focuses on workplace health including the prevention and treatment of injuries, illnesses and diseases.

How it works

Heat Exposure

Heat is a hazard in many Australian workplaces, whether work is performed indoors or outdoors. The human body needs to maintain a body temperature of approximately 37 degrees Celsius

If the body has to work too hard to keep cool or starts to overheat a worker begins to suffer from heat-related illness. This is a general term to describe a range of progressive heat related conditions including fainting, heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.

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Some other common effects of working in heat include:

  • Heat rash. Skin can become irritated and cause discomfort when working in heat.
  • Heat cramps. Muscles can cramp as a result of heavy sweating without replacing salt and electrolytes.
  • Fainting. Can occur when workers stand or rise from a sitting position.
  • Dehydration. Increased sweating can lead to dehydration if workers aren’t drinking enough water.
  • Heat exhaustion. Occurs when the body is working too hard to stay cool.
  • Heat stroke. Occurs when the body can no longer cool itself. This can be fatal.
  • Burns. Can occur if a worker comes into contact with hot surfaces or tools.
  • Slips. A worker will sweat more in hot conditions which can increase the risk of slips - for example, a worker might slip when using sharp tools if their hands are damp.
  • Reduced concentration. When working in heat it is more difficult to concentrate and a worker may become confused. This means workers may be more likely to make mistakes, such as forgetting to guard machinery.
  • Increased chemical uptake into the body. Heat can cause the body to absorb chemicals differently and can increase the side effects of some medications.

Working in heat can be hazardous and can cause harm to workers. As a business you must do everything that is reasonably practicable to eliminate the risks associated with working in heat. This may include cancelling certain work tasks, rescheduling tasks to cooler parts of the day or waiting for hot conditions to pass. If you cannot eliminate the risk, you must minimise it as much as reasonably practicable. Remember, heat that represents a hazard to workers may be generated by more than just weather conditions. You may find a combination of controls to be the most effective.

If you assess that the risk to your workers associated with working in heat are too high to be controlled you could engage an Occupational Physician to perform a professional risk assessment and devise a management plan for your business.

Confined Spaces

Confined spaces are usually not designed for people to work in. They often have poor ventilation, which allows hazardous atmospheres to quickly develop, especially if the space is small. In addition, hazards are not always obvious and may change from one entry point to the next.

A risk assessment involves considering what could happen if someone is exposed to a hazard and the likelihood of it happening. Under the model WHS Regulations, carrying out a risk assessment is mandatory for working in a confined space.

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The hazards associated with confined spaces are many and varied and include:

  • Harmful airborne contaminates
  • Unsafe oxygen levels
  • Risk of fire or explosions
  • Engulfment
  • Biological hazards
  • Mechanical hazards
  • Electrical hazards
  • Skin contact with hazardous substances
  • Noise
  • Manual Tasks
  • Radiation
  • Environmental Hazards
  • Psychological and physiological demands

Your organisation should ensure that your workers are fit to work in these environments and are able to escape safely if they need to. Australian Standard AS 2865-2009 outlines risk management strategies and recommends medical assessment for fitness to work in confined spaces.

Sonic HealthPlus, can design a Confined Space Entry Medical Assessment for your organisation based on inherent risks. Typically in an assessment of this kind you could anticipate screening that would include:

  • Health questionnaire including questions about psychological issues such as claustrophobia
  • Height, weight, body mass index, waist and hip measurement
  • Blood pressure
  • Depending on age (cardiovascular risk assessment)
  • Vision screening for near and distance
  • Standard urine test for blood, protein and sugar
  • Lung function test - baseline
  • Hearing test – baseline
  • Musculoskeletal assessment
  • Specific confined space related questions
  • Respirator fit questions

Sonic HealthPlus conducts confined space medical examinations and we would be pleased to assist you with this service.


Whole-body vibration (WBV) is vibration transmitted to the whole body by the surface supporting it, for example through a seat or the floor.

It is commonly experienced by drivers, operators and passengers in mobile plant when travelling over uneven surfaces. WBV may also be experienced while standing, for example standing on platforms attached to concrete crushing plant. WBV includes sharp impacts like shocks and jolts.

Exposure to WBV mainly occurs in vehicles used off-road or on un-sealed roads, for example on farms and construction, mine and quarry sites. It can also occur in other places like in small, fast boats and in helicopters.

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Studies of long-term exposure to WBV show evidence of risks to health, mainly musculoskeletal disorders involving the lower spine, neck and shoulders. High WBV exposure increases the risk of lower-back pain, herniated discs and early degeneration of the spine.

Other factors may cause or contribute to back pain, shoulder and neck disorders, for example working posture, body size, muscle tone, physical workload and individual factors like age, pre-existing disorders and muscle force.

Exposure to WBV may cause or make worse:

  • cardiovascular, respiratory, neurological, endocrine and metabolic changes
  • digestive problems
  • reproductive organ damage in both men and women, and
  • impairment of vision, balance or both.

Exposure to WBV may also cause discomfort, fatigue and other problems when work activities are being carried out. This could lead to incidents.

There is some evidence workers who use vibrating plant and are exposed to noise at the same time are more likely to suffer hearing loss than workers exposed to the same level of noise alone. Exposure to both vibration and noise is also understood to increase musculoskeletal problems.

Workers should seek medical advice or be referred to a medical practitioner if they experience discomfort, numbness, tingling or pain during use or following use of plant which exposes them to WBV.

  • Seeking early medical advice from an Occupational Physician may:
  • help identify whether controls being used are effective
  • help identify workers at particular risk because of pre-existing conditions, and
  • prevent progression of disease.

Workers can complete an annual questionnaire about lower back pain and other symptoms to identify if they should be checked by an Occupational Physician.

Cold Temperature Injuries

If your team works outside or in a cold storage facility, they may be at risk of exposure to extreme cold. Prolonged exposure to cold can result in hypothermia, a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.

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Your workplace must have measures in place to manage the risks to your health and safety caused by exposure to cold weather and temperatures such as:

  • providing heating, for example cab heaters
  • providing protection, such as a hut or the cabin of a vehicle
  • providing warm and waterproof clothing, and
  • enabling workers who are not used to working in cold conditions to acclimatise.

Eliminating exposure to cold is the best protection.

The ideal temperature for sedentary work is between 20 and 26 degrees Celsius, depending on the time of year and clothing worn.

Our bodies are unable to acclimatize to the cold in the same manner that they can adapt to heat. When the body is unable to warm itself, serious cold-related illnesses and injury may occur and permanent tissue damage and death may result. Cold related illness can slowly overcome a person who has been chilled by low temperatures, brisk winds or wet clothing. Cold stress is associated with low temperature, high air movement and humidity, for example, from a blast of cold, wet wind.

Lowering of body temperature (hypothermia) has an effect on the brain, causing erratic behaviour and numbness, muscular weakness and cramps. Hypothermia can occur when land temperatures are above freezing or water temperatures are below 37° Celsius. Its symptoms are fatigue and drowsiness, uncontrolled shivering, cool bluish skin, slurred speech, clumsy movements, irritable, irrational or confused behaviour.

Localised exposure to cold may cause frostbite and chilblains. Frostbite occurs through freezing in deep layers of skin and tissue causing waxy-white skin.  The skin becomes hard and numb and usually affects the fingers, hands, toes, feet ears and nose first.
Long-term effects of working in the cold include: arthritis, rheumatism, chest complaints and heart disease, because of the strain on the heart caused by circulatory changes.

All cases of cold illnesses must be taken seriously and medical attention must be sought as soon as possible. All cases of frostbite must be treated as an emergency and the patient taken to hospital.

Our Occupational and Environmental Physicians can assist your organisation develop policies that prevent temperature injuries. They will also identify workers at risk of injury from extreme temperatures which may include;

  • those with predisposing health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension
  • those taking certain medication (check with your doctor and ask if any medicines currently being taken by yourself could affect you while working in a hot/cold environment)
  • those who are in poor physical condition, have a poor diet or are older workers

We can also design specific medicals for workers going to work in cold environments to ensure these workers are safe to conduct their tasks without risk to themselves and others.

Risks from Viruses, Bacteria, Moulds, Foods

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Mould is a type of fungus that can be found everywhere indoors and outdoors.  Exposure can be via inhalation, skin contact or ingestion.  Health issues associated with mould include irritation of eyes, nose, throat and skin, allergic reactions, infection and hypersensitivity pneumonitis.  There is a risk increase for those that have existing RD conditions or other low immunity conditions. 

Bacterial infections can be highly contagious and can affect the throat, lungs, skin, bowel and many other parts of the body. To avoid spreading infection you should wash hands, cover up when sneezing and coughing, and not share cups and drink bottles.  Pneumonia, meningitis and food poisoning are a few of the illnesses to be caused by bacteria. 

Viruses are a different type of pathogen to bacteria.  Viruses are much smaller than bacteria and cannot reproduce on their own.  Instead, viruses reproduce by infecting a host and using the host’s DNA repair and replication systems to make copies of itself.  Viruses cause chicken pox, influenza and HIV.  They affect many bodily systems including reproductive, respiratory and gastrointestinal.  Can be transferred by touch, saliva, air particles, insects including ticks and mosquitoes as well as via contaminated food and water.

Foodborne viral illness, are generally transferred by those who do not wash hands adequately after visiting the restroom.  Afterwards, they may shake hands, prepare food or touch hard surfaces and spread the illness.  Viral gastroenteritis will inflame the stomach and intestines, symptoms will manifest as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain (food poisoning).  Hepatitis A is another virus related to food handling and inadequate hand washing, where an infected person can pass on the virus.

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