What your doctor needs to know

There are many injuries and illnesses that are not always recognised as being work-related.  There are many reasons why it's important to know whether they are or not.  These include not only providing the best medical advice, but also ensuring that hazards in the workplace are identified and controlled.  If this happens, then other similar injuries/illnesses can be prevented.  Further, if a condition or illness is work-related, then the worker has the right to worker's compensation: lost wages and medical expenses.

This is advice for workers as to the sorts of things their doctor needs to know.

Poor working conditions, work practices or some substances used at work can cause ill health or make existing conditions worse.

To be able to properly identify the cause of the condition, and to give workers the best advice, the treating doctor needs to know about the work and the workplace.

Note to OHS reps:

This is general advice to give to your members if they need to go to their doctors with a complaint they think may be work related. It is not necessarily advice for a doctor they are already seeing in relation to a WorkCover claim.  If the condition is in fact work-related, then it's important for the worker to let you, as the DWG's OHS rep, know about it.  You can then ensure that the employer takes action to either eliminate the hazard or control it as far as reasonably practicable, preventing other workers from illness/injury.

Seek Advice

The VTHC advises that workers should have their own doctor. It is important that your doctor knows you and your medical history. (see also this FAQ: Workers and Medical Appointments for advice)

If you think something at work may be causing your illness or making it worse, see your doctor and your work's doctor or nurse, if there is one, as soon as possible, and tell them about your job. Early diagnosis of an illness caused by your work can often help you to recover more quickly. Your own doctor should be the one to provide you with treatment.

And if something at your workplace has been identified as being the cause of the illness, then your OHS will be able to raise and resolve it with management – thus hopefully preventing other people becoming ill.

Your doctor will guide the consultation by asking you about your health problem with key questions about your symptoms and possible causes. You will need to give your doctor a description of your workplace, your job and what hazardous substances and work processes you work with.

What your doctor needs to know

Your symptoms:

  • What are they?
  • When and how did your illness start?
  • Do you feel ill only when you are doing certain tasks?
  • Do you feel ill at weekends or when you are on holiday?
  • Have you missed work because of your illness?
  • Have you had to change any of your normal activities (eg leisure/sport/family) because of your illness/symptoms?
  • Is there anything else your doctor should know about your illness?
  • Have others at work suffered similar symptoms?

What you do:

It's important that your doctor knows not just your job title, but what you actually do at work and where you work. If you change your job, let your doctor know on your next visit.

Have you been warned of any health risks from your work or told to take special precautions? (see below)

Working conditions:

  • Do you work with heavy or awkward loads?
  • Do you do frequent lifting?
  • Does the equipment you use vibrate?
  • Is your seating or workstation uncomfortable or unsuitable?
  • Does your work involve repetitive movements like hammering, typing, VDU operation, food processing, working on assembly lines, working on checkout counters?
  • Is your workplace noisy?
  • Are there lighting problems at work?
  • Do you use any protective clothing or equipment at work? Take a description of these to your doctor.

Provide any other information you think may be helpful.

Substances at work:

  • What chemicals do you work with?
  • Are there labels on any substances you use?

Write down their names and any information about them from the labels and get copies of the material safety data sheets (MSDSs).

  • Does your work involve dust or fumes? If so, what sort of dust or fumes?
  • Is there any monitoring of the dust or fume levels?
  • Do you put your hands regularly into detergents, solvents or other liquids?
  • Has your employer arranged for you to have any tests related to the substances you use?
  • Have there been any new substances introduced at work which could have made you ill?
  • What do you use to clean your hands at work?
  • Do you have any contact with animals or birds?
  • Do you have any contact with bodily fluids? (eg blood, urine, saliva)
  • Can you think of any other information about substances that your doctor should know?

Work patterns and practices:

  • How long have you been doing your job?
  • Do you work shifts?
  • Are you exposed to passive smoke?
  • Are there separate places for eating at work?
  • Are you able to change clothing that has become heavily soiled or contaminated before you leave work?
  • Is there any new equipment or work processes that have made you feel ill?
  • Have others at work suffered similar trouble?
  • Has your workload been increased?
  • How much of control do you have over what you do?
  • Have you been bullied, harassed or pressured?

Your Rights and Responsibilities

You have the right to be protected from illness and injury at work.  Your employer has the duty to provide a working environment that is safe and without risks to health.  Ill health at work can often be prevented, so it is important to report any symptoms and concerns to your employer and health and safety representative. You should also tell the work doctor or nurse if there is one.

Further Advice and Information

If you or your doctor think work might be contributing to your illness and you are still concerned after telling your employer and OHS rep about it, you should contact your union and speak to the OHS Officer or your organiser.

Last amended January 2015