WHO as well as the International Labour Organisation (ILO) have come up with a new guide to develop as well as implement robust programmes on occupational health as well as safety for health workers as the pandemic continues to put enormous pressure on them.
According to Maria Neira, Dept. of Environment, Climate Change and Health Director, even before the pandemic struck a blow in 2020, the health sector was undoubtedly regarded as the most hazardous sector of all when it came to working in it. Notably, only a very few facilities brim with programmes that can effectively manage health as well as safety at work. Neira adds that the facilities that don’t offer programmes for worker upliftment can be nothing short of hubs where infections, injuries, disorders related to musculoskeletal issues, and overall poor work environments dwell.
If this wasn’t enough, COVID-19 has proven to have had an unparalleled amount of toll when it comes to the health of the workers. It has also brought to light the neglect they have been through as far as safety and well-being at work goes. It is estimated that more than one in every three healthcare facilities lacks hygiene stations at the point where treatment is taking place. Also, less than one in every six countries has a national policy in place that concerns health and safe working conditions in the health industry.
The pandemic has indeed exposed the consistent dearth of safeguards for health workers. As per James Campbell, who happens to be the Director of the WHO Health Workforce Department, if one wants to have a look at a figure, in the first 18 months of COVID-19, a total of 115,000 health workers passed away due to the virus. There was already a pre-existing shortage of health workers, and sickness, exhaustion, and absence added to the woes of the health system, which could not respond to demand for care that was ever increasing. The guide, according to him, provides recommendations on how to make this experience count and better mould the system to protect the workers who give it all in the front line.
Both the global bodies of high repute have recommended developing and implementing programmes that are sustainable when it comes to managing occupational health as well as the safety of workers at predominantly three levels: national, sub-national, and health facility. Such programmes, as per them, must cover occupational hazards that range from physical and chemical to psycho-social, infectious and ergonomic.
The guidelines also set forth the roles that the government, workers, employers, and occupational health services must play when it comes to promoting and protecting the well-being of health workers. There is a need for continuous and consistent funding, training, monitoring, and collaboration, which is what the guide focuses on, since these elements sustain the progress of programme implementation.
Alette van Leur, Director at ILO’s Sectoral Policies Department, opines that there has to be an effective mechanism that makes sure the collaboration between managers, employers, and health workers is consistent with the prime focus of safeguarding health and safety at the workplace. Van Leur adds that health personnel, like any other workers, are entitled to their right to work in decent working environments and must have social protection against sickness, occupational diseases, as well as injuries.
It should be noted that countries that have successfully implemented such programmes have seen a decrease in work-related injuries, diseases, and sick leave.There has also been an improvement in the work environment, leading to enhanced productivity and worker retention. According to Vera Pawuete-Perdigao, Director of ILO Governance, such programmes are an intrinsic component for effective management of occupational safety and health, and thus provide a significant landscape for coordinated action by stakeholders through social dialogues that aim at a common goal of upgrading decent work in the health sector.Because of their implementation, there is also an increase in the resilience that is seen in these healthcare setups. It goes without saying that both, WHO and ILO will continue with their endeavour to provide guidance to countries to develop and execute occupational health programmes for the frontline workers.