The World Health Organization (WHO) and The International Labour Organization (ILO) have published a new guide on developing and implementing stronger occupational health and safety programmes for health workers, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to exert great pressure on them.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken an additional heavy toll on health workers and demonstrated dangerous neglect of their health, safety and wellbeing. More than one-in-three health facilities lack hygiene stations at the point of care. Fewer than one-in-six countries had in place a national policy on a healthy and safe working environment in the health sector.
Occupational Health and Safety is a multidisciplinary area of work aiming at
- promotion and maintenance of the highest degree of physical, mental and social well-being of workers in all occupations
- prevention of departures from health caused by their working conditions among workers
- protection of workers from risks resulting from factors adverse to health
- placing and maintenance of workers in an occupational environment adapted to their physiological and psychological capabilities.
The science and practice of occupational health and safety involves many disciplines including occupational medicine, nursing, ergonomics, psychology, hygiene, safety engineering, etc.
Health workers refers to all people involved in work whose primary intent is to improve health.
Programmes for occupational health and safety for health workers refers to sets of planned and coordinated activities at national, subnational and health facility levels that include governance, regulations and standards, human resources, financing and services aimed at:
- preventing diseases and injuries arising out of, linked with or occurring in the course of work
- building healthier and safer working environment, and
- promoting health and well-being of health workers
Programmes for occupational health and safety for health workers are based on the following principles:
- Employers of health workers have the duty to implement occupational health and safety measures, while workers have the right to healthy and safe working conditions, a duty to comply with the instructions for health and safety and to take reasonable care of their own safety.
- Occupational health and safety measures require a system for management, continuous improvement and regular dialogue between employers, workers and their representatives, as well as involvement of other stakeholders.
- The aim should be to cover all health workers in all types of health facilities and programmes should be implemented in sustainable ways to ensure continuous protection of the health and safety of health workers at all times.
- Development and implementation of the programmes should be gender-responsive, non-discriminatory and inclusive, taking into accounts the special needs of female health workers, migrant health workers, vulnerable groups, and workers with precarious employment conditions.
The key elements of a national programme for occupational health and safety of health workers include the following:
- National policy statement on occupational health and safety for health workers issued at the highest possible level and communicated at all workplace levels, and in all management and practice environments in the health sector.
- A unit or person in charge of occupational health and safety of health workers designated within the ministry of health.
- A Steering Committee for health and safety in the health sector, involving employers’ and workers’ representatives, established at the national level to oversee and steer programme implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
- Regulations and standards for prevention and control of occupational health hazards in the health sector available in all health facilities.
- A set of objectives, targets and key indicators for monitoring and evaluation of programme implementation at all levels and integrated into the national health information system.
- Established mechanisms for efficient financing of measures for the health and safety of health workers.
- Adequate human resources for occupational health and safety of health workers and technical knowledge and skills available at all levels.
- Adequate supplies and commodities including PPE, vaccines, safe medical devices, equipment and tools for safe work readily available at all levels of the health system.
- Standards to provide occupational health services to health workers along with a system for quality assurance and a programme for the expansion of these services.
- Policies to provide support services to health workers addressing HIV, TB, and hepatitis B and C services for health workers.
Link to the related WHO news release:
Link to the new Guide released by WHO/ILO: