• Vol. 38 No. 8, 727–732
  • 15 August 2009

The Doctor in Claims for Work Injuries and Ill Health – Legal Pitfalls



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Occupational health work is currently undertaken by the specialist and the non-specialist physician alike. The work scope can vary from medical assessments of individual workers to health risk assessment at the workplace. The scope of the latter will include evaluation of exposures, hazards, risks and its management to control these risks. Much of the case law governing legal disputes over industrial safety and health have involved the employers. Over the years, the actions brought forth by workers have resulted in a formidable volume of case law based on statutes and on the common law of negligence in tort. Disputes over the assessment of workers’ health or workplace health risks to the extent that it is a failure to discharge a reasonable standard of care, may result in the doctor being a defendant. Measures to prevent these legal pitfalls include communication with employers about the causative link of the illness suffered to workplace factors and the clarity of contractual obligations undertaken with regard to workplace health risk assessment.

Work can affect health. Workplace exposures to hazards can harm workers either through accidents leading to injury, or through the development of occupational illnesses. Health can affect work. A negligent fitness to work examination can render a doctor vulnerable to claims for personal injury. A failure to recognise and to warn of a susceptibility to harm, rendering the realisation of the risk of harm is potentially litigable conduct.

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