It is important that any surveillance program implemented be evaluated to determine how well it is working. This is an often overlooked feature of data collection. A data gathering system is not a static system. Improved technology, altered plant processes, and changes in staff can all affect the type of data collected and the way they are collected (ICME, 1999). Benchmarking provides a means to integrate such changes and to improve the efficiency of established programs. It is simple in concept, requiring the assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of any data gathering system within a company and acting to implement changes where and when weaknesses are identified.
Evaluations made should be both “top-down” and “bottom-up”. It is not enough for management, alone, to evaluate the effectiveness of a program:
- the opinions and suggestions of workers on how to improve health and workplace surveillance programs should also be sought;
- data gaps need to be identified;
- goals need to be set against which future evaluations can be made;
- action plans for making changes to any deficient processes need to be drafted; and
- feasibility, including financial and staff resources, needs to be considered.
In summary, it is important not only to gather data, but to use the data in a way that identifies and reduces the risks of occupational exposures in the workplace so that they are acceptable from the perspectives of health, safety and the environment.