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Data protection code issued on workers’ health


DiscussionsThe Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, has today issued a draft of the fourth, and final, part of his Employment Practices Data Protection Code – Information About Workers’ Health – for a three month period of public consultation. The Code aims to give employers clear and practical guidance about how to comply with data protection law when handling information about workers’ health.

Information About Workers’ Health contains good practice recommendations, in section 3, on handling health information about workers. It includes sections dealing specifically with:

  • general considerations
  • the operation of occupational health schemes
  • medical examination and testing of workers
  • drug and alcohol testing
  • genetic testing in the workplace

The consultation period for Information About Workers’ Health ends on 27th February 2004. You can respond to the consultation on the Information Commissioner’s website or by writing to Angela Russell, Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF.

What does this part of the Code cover?

This part of the Code addresses the collection and subsequent use of information about a worker’s physical or mental health or condition. Collection will often be done by some form of medical examination or test, but may involve other means such as health questionnaires.

The issues addressed in this part of the Code will arise typically from the carrying out of medical examination and testing or from the operation of an occupational health scheme. This part of the Code is therefore most likely to be of relevance to larger organisations.

This part of the Code does not directly address the routine keeping of sickness or accident records about workers. This is covered in Part 2 – Employment Records, (See page 22 for guidance on sickness and accident records.)

Examples of information about workers’ health.

This part of the Code applies to information such as:

  • a questionnaire completed by workers to detect problems with their health

  • information about a worker’s disabilities or special needs

  • the results of an eye-test taken by a worker using display screens

  • records of a worker’s blood type kept in case the worker is involved in an accident

  • records of blood tests carried out to ensure the worker has not been exposed to hazardous substances

  • the results of a test carried out to check a worker’s exposure to alcohol or drugs, and

  • the results of genetic tests carried out on workers.

In addition to the main Code, the Information Commissioner will be issuing a short guidance document aimed at the small business community. Information About Workers’ Health will also be accompanied by a volume of supplementary guidance, which provides additional information about the subjects covered in the Code itself. Drafts of the supplementary guidance and the small business guidance have also been issued for consultation.

Related sources:

The Employment Practices Data Protection Code

  • Part 1 Recruitment and Selection
  • Part 1 Recruitment and Selection Notes
  • Part 2 Employment Records
  • Part 3 Monitoring at work
  • Part 3 Monitoring at work Supplementary Guidance
  • Part 3 Small Business Code
  • One Response

    1. The Information Commissioner gets real
      The guidance on how to manage information relating to employees’ health is a welcome step towards a more practical regime for both employers and employees.

      I see the new regulations as a statement of intent from the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, who took up his post a year ago. This is the first part of the Code generated and unveiled during his tenure.

      The guidance is simpler and more practical than some of the previous parts of the Code. It provides a common sense approach to a sensitive issue and clarity for employers and protection for employees, on issues as diverse as health records and genetic testing, so that everyone knows where they stand.

      This is a good sign of a more pragmatic approach to providing guidance on data protection.

      Nick Chronias, partner in Beachcroft Wansbroughs’ national Employment practice
      [email protected]

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