Fact Sheet - Occupational Physician

What is an Occupational Physician?

In Australia, nearly all medical practitioners and most paramedical practitioners care for people who work. When considering the health problems of a working person there are four important questions to do with work, which should be considered. If the person's condition is not considered in the context of their work their recovery may be compromised and in some instances their ability and capacity to continue to work will eventually be reduced or lost.

The four questions are:

  • Is the problem unrelated to work and not affecting or affected by work?
  • Is the problem unrelated to work but affected by work?
  • Is the problem unrelated to work but affects ability to work?
  • Is the problem caused by work?

In many cases the answer is straightforward, but still requires that the medical and paramedical practitioners have some understanding of the person's work. Where the answer to any of the questions is uncertain or blurred then the Occupational Physician because of his or her experience of the organisation and activities of workplaces, can be of assistance in assessing the relationship of the health problems to work, sorting out a plan of management, liaising with the workplace and facilitating return to work.

Occupational Physicians are Fellows of the Australasian Faculty of Occupational Medicine. They have the professional training, skills and competence to advise on the clinical management of people at work and upon the impact of environmental factors facing the general community.

Occupational physicians have completed a medical degree in (6 years) and a 4 year training program with the faculty of Occupational Medicine. Occupational physicians must obtain a recognised post graduate qualification in occupational medicine and pass the exit examination upon completion of the training program. The Royal Australian College of physicians has endorsed our training program. The training is rigorous and comprehensive.

Occupational physicians work in a range of settings, often with multidisciplinary teams involving referral from and collaboration with a wide range of health professionals. In conjunction with other health professionals and employers they work to reduce morbidity and increase the flexibility of work options for injured or ill workers. They play a key role in the management of the return to work process and assist and liaise with other medical and paramedical professionals in ensuring an early return to appropriate work and maintenance at work.

There are 500 Occupational physicians throughout Australia with some rural coverage but more urban coverage. Referrals to occupational physicians come from GP's, paramedical health professionals, employers, insurance companies and unions.

Occupational physicians are able to:

  • identify and implement preventative strategies and procedures that will reduce morbidity in the workplace and specifically for an injured patient's workmates;
  • identify an individual's work capacity, giving advice in respect of impairment, disability and handicap commenting on work and vocational capacities;
  • reduce morbidity through the appropriate management of medical conditions, particularly musculoskeletal;
  • assist primary treating practitioners in complex cases where management of the patient/workplace interface is crucial to a successful outcome;
  • provide supportive management to patients with chronic medical illnesses, whether they are work related or non work related, enabling them to remain productive members of the work force for as long as possible;
  • determine both diagnosis and cause / effect relationships;
  • provide competent assessments following referral by medical practitioners of patients affected by an acute exposure to environmental contaminants and advise on appropriate health surveillance for that workplace;
  • reassure patients with regard to wellness when issues of concern arise;
  • promote health in the workplace setting.

Medical Interests

occupational musculoskeletal disorders, e.g. overuse injuries (RSI, epicondylitis, carpal tunnel, etc), back pain, neck pain, rotator cuff injuries, knee injuries, etc. toxicology, e.g. chemical exposures,

allergic disorders related to work, e.g. asthma, dermatitis, laboratory animal allergy

OCCUPATIONAL INFECTIONS e.g. hepatitis, AIDS, Q fever, brucellosis, legionnaire's disease

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). Without treatment HIV damages the immune system which means the body becomes less able to protect itself from illness. Eventually this results in AIDS, where illnesses become so serious they are life threatening. These illnesses may include pneumonia and cancers.

Q Fever is an acute fever caused by a parasite. It is spread by direct contact with infected animals or by inhaling infected dust. Sheep, cattle, goats, cats, dogs, birds, ticks, some wild animals and rodents can carry Q fever. Onset of Q fever may be sudden with chills, headache, weakness, malaise and severe sweats. There is considerable variation in severity and duration of infection. Those at greatest risk include abattoir workers and people carrying out medical research with animals. People at risk should be vaccinated against Q fever.

occupational rehabilitation and injury management advice, is this injured person receiving proper medical advice and treatment i.e.: are there any obstacles to the progress or resolution of the injury what can be done to get him/her back to work fitness for work asessments, i.e. can this injured person return to work?; is this claimed condition work related?; does this alleged work related condition require MRI, arthroscopy, or back surgery etc?; objective impairment assessment (AMA Guides, 4th edition or Comcare); employment and retirement issues to do with health problems- e.g. can this prospective employee with a particular health problem do the work safely, or should this ill or injured employee be at work?; 11. workplace health issues, e.g. shift work, mobile phones, sick building syndrome, etc; 12. motor vehicle accident injuries- opinion about treatment, rehabilitation, fitness for work and impairment evaluation.