Leading up to 2003, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) was getting concerned about the rise in work–related accidents and illnesses. There were 268 million non-fatal accidents, 160 million cases of diseases, and more than 2 million deaths worldwide. To try and put an end to this, the ILO created the “World Day for Safety and Health at Work” on April 28th, 2003. A day for advocacy and raising awareness about occupational health and safety in the workplace. Since then, each year the world health and safety day has been used to campaign around a specific theme.
For 2020, the ILO recognizes that governments, businesses, workers, and entire societies worldwide are currently fighting the coronavirus pandemic. Therefore, for this year’s theme, the world day for safety and health at work will be addressing the outbreak of diseases at work, focusing on the coronavirus.
World Health and Safety Day 2020: Stopping COVID-19
I think it is safe to assume that most of us are concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic. While countries like South Korea, New Zealand, and Vietnam are showing signs of recovery, countries like the USA and Brazil are still witnessing a rapid increase in the number of infected cases deaths. With how contagious coronavirus is and vaccination at least 12 to 18 months away, people are worried whether they can ever resume sustained work without getting infected.
Overcoming this pandemic is not going to be easy. However, we can start being more proactive about addressing it. As a first step, workplaces need to take the role of occupational safety and health (OSH) very seriously. So, how do we do this? Well, the ILO has created a comprehensive report detailing this out – In the face of a pandemic: Ensuring Safety and Health at Work. I have summarised this report in easy to understand bullet points, but if you have the time, I highly recommend reading their entire report.
- Prepare an emergency preparedness plan for your workplace. One that addresses what to do in the case of a health crisis or pandemic. This will help your business develop a much quicker and effective response with minimal disruptions.
- The employer needs to train the entire workforce to deal with an emergency.
- Social distancing needs to be mandatory, and all work should allow for physical distance.
- All common areas need to be disinfected regularly, and everyone should have easy access to handwashing facilities.
- Workplace culture should promote the cleaning of personal workstations, desks, keyboards, monitors, and other equipment.
- Management needs to ensure workers that require personal protective equipment (PPE) have access to them.
- If anyone has any symptoms of the coronavirus, actively encourage workers to either work from home or expand their sick leave benefits.
- Data from the Ebola outbreak shows that workplaces can have an increase in social stigma and discrimination. Therefore, OSH needs to account for this and protect workers from violence and harassment.
- Finally, during such pandemics and emergencies, employees might be dealing with anxiety, low mood/motivation, and depressive thoughts. An employer needs to understand and recognize this. Open communication and transparency can go a long way in dealing with this.
I want to conclude this blog by taking a moment to thank all the front line, informal, and essential workers out there. Many of them must work despite social and movement restrictions. This is either because they are essential workers like nurses, cashiers, delivery workers, warehouse workers, or informal workers, who simply must work because their alternative might be starvation. This is why it is disheartening to see many of these people not have access to PPE and need to often improvise. I want to echo what ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder said, “We need special measures to protect the millions of health care workers and other workers who risk their own health for us every day.”
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