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Pre-Employment Medical – What to Expect


Pre-employment medical examinations often intimidate newcomers to the mining industry. It’s worrying to think a failed medical exam may cost you your new job before you even start. So how can you improve your chances of success? Although you can’t manipulate your medical results, you can prepare for your medical by becoming familiar with the process. Knowing what to expect will help you complete the exam to the best of your ability.

Every medical is different, depending on the role you are applying for. Your exam might include anything from straight-forward medical checks (such as blood pressure and eye tests) through to more complex fitness and psychological testing. One thing you can be certain of, you will need to complete a written questionnaire as part of every pre-employment medical.

Part 1 – The Written Questionnaire

In most cases, the written questionnaire will ask very broad questions in an attempt to gather as much information as possible. You will need to declare all your medical concerns, whether mental or physical. Also, be prepared to answer questions about your medical history as well as your current health and lifestyle.

Normally you will need to fill out the form yourself, but occasionally the medical examiner will complete the questionnaire while interviewing you.

Some common questions include:
  • Are you taking any regular prescription medication?
  • Have you ever undergone a surgery?
  • Does your family have a history of Asthma or Diabetes?
  • Have you ever been addicted to drugs or alcohol?
  • Do you smoke?
Of course, answering “yes” to any of the above will require further explanation. Always give full and honest answers to these questions. Failure to provide true information may get you into trouble, especially if you’re unable to do your job well or if your medical condition endangers others.

Part 2 – The Physical Exam

The physical exam is designed to assess your ability to fulfill the daily duties of your new role, as well as meet statutory health and safety standards of the job. The exam itself will vary greatly depending on the job position and the employer. In mining, most new employees will undergo all the following standard physical assessments, plus a selection of optional assessments specific to the job.

Standard Physical Assessments

  • MWHS Test – A Mine Workers Health Surveillance (MWHS) test is a hearing and lung function test. Every person employed by the mining industry is required to have a MWHS. Exactly what to expect during the hearing and lung function tests is described below.
  • Hearing Test – In a basic hearing test, your examiner will drop an object and watch for your reaction (as an indicator you heard the sound). More complex tests will involve listening through headphones and pressing a button whenever you hear a test sound.
  • Lung Function Test – You will be asked to fill your lungs and blow into a tube as fast as possible until you have exhaled completely.
  • Blood Pressure – Almost everyone has had a blood pressure check in their lifetime, so no doubt you’re familiar with the process. The examiner will wrap a fabric cuff around your arm, just above the elbow. The cuff is inflated, causing it to squeeze tightly around your arm. The examiner then measures your blood pressure via a gauge attached to the cuff while listening to your pulse through a stethoscope.
  • Body Mass Index – Your height will be measured and you will be weighed on medical scales. You may be asked to remove your shoes and heavy clothing before stepping onto the scales.
  • Urine Analysis – You will be provided a sterile container and asked to provide a urine sample. In most cases, you will be allowed to use a toilet in private. Be aware, however, that some drug screening tests insist you provide the urine sample under supervision of a medical officer.
  • Physical Fitness Test – Physically demanding jobs may require demonstrated cardio fitness. Expect to be running on a treadmill, riding an exercise bike or performing a step-aerobics test.
  • Eye/Vision Test – You will be required to stand a specific distance away from an alphabet-based wall chart, before reading the letters aloud.
  • Joint Range of Motion – Your examiner may use a protractor-like measurement tool (called a goniometer) to measure how far you can flex and bend your joints. Expect to perform a series of postures and movements, straightening and bending joints such as knees, shoulders and hips.
  • Musculoskeletal Assessment (Strength Test) – During a typical strength test, the examiner will ask you to push against resistance. For example, you may be asked to lift your arm while the examiner applies light downward pressure, pushing against your arm. Alternatively, you might be asked to walk against the examiner as he pushes against you.
  • Spinal Assessment – Be prepared to remove all clothing except your underwear. This allows the examiner to visually assess the curvature of your spine from behind and from the side. The examiner will usually feel your spine and back, before asking you to perform a series of movements such as touching your toes and turning your head/neck from side to side.

Optional Physical Assessments

  • Drug Screening (urine test) – Most drug screening tests will require the urine sample be provided under supervision of a nurse or medical officer.
  • X-Ray of the Spine
  • X-Ray of the Chest
  • MRI – You may be required to undergo an MRI to assess old injuries, or to establish your pre-employment health status for record keeping and monitoring purposes.
  • ECG – An ECG (electrocardiogram) detects heart abnormalities by measuring electrical activity of the heart. You will be “hooked up” to a measuring machine via a series of electrodes and leads placed on your chest, arms and legs using adhesive. The technician may shave hair from areas where the electrodes are to be placed.
  • Psychological screening Expect either one-on-one interviews, or written examinations designed to evaluate your personality, general reasoning and aptitude.

Common Concerns – You’re Not Alone

There’s no need to worry about a pre-employment medical exam. The exam benefits you as much as the employer. If you’re feeling anxious, you’re not alone. Below is a list of common concerns, with advice to help you alleviate them.
  • “I feel embarrassed.” People are often worried about removing their clothing or, more commonly, having to urinate under supervision. To reduce the potential for embarrassment, ensure you are wearing appropriate underwear. Choose underwear that is modest (i.e. no patterns or lace), supportive and provides full coverage. It may also comfort you to know you may request an extra person, such as another nurse or medical officer, be in the room. This makes the environment more relaxed and feels safer than a one-on-one examination.
  • “I’m too unfit.” If you’re worried you won’t be able to complete your fitness test, start training now. Even a week’s worth of moderate walking can raise your cardio fitness, helping you feel more prepared for the test.
  • “I’m too overweight.” An employer cannot legally deny you a job simply because you are overweight. Medical examiners are accustomed to seeing people of all shapes and sizes, so don’t be too concerned about the way you look. If you feel you are too overweight to do your job well, see your GP about beginning a weight loss program. Informing the examiner you are on a doctor-approved weight loss program will be seen in a positive light.
  • “I don’t want to disclose my medical condition or previous injury.” Perhaps you’re concerned a medical condition or injury will cause you to lose the job. Don’t make the mistake of not declaring the problem. You are better to lose the job than to cause an accident or cause further injury to yourself or another worker.

On the Day

On the day of your pre-employment medical, get ready by following these tips:
  • Wear modest, supportive underwear.
  • Bring your current photo-ID.
  • If a fitness test is required, wear appropriate exercise clothing and running shoes.
  • If you wear contact lenses or spectacles, bring them with you.
  • If you’re an asthmatic, bring your Ventolin puffer.
  • Avoid smoking 24 hours prior to the exam. This will help you perform better during lung function tests.
  • Avoid listening to loud music (especially with headphones) 24 hours prior. This avoids temporary hearing difficulties which may impede your hearing check.

Stay Positive

It’s important not to stress over your pre-employment medical, the results of which are largely out of your control. For the best outcome, keep a positive outlook and be prepared. Be sure to enquire about the nature of your medical examinations before you arrive. Know what tests you’ll be given and how much time you should allocate on the day.

For more important information about what it’s like to work on-site in the mining industry, check out our Mining Lifestyle Guide.
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