New WHO & ILO guide urges superior safeguards to protect health workers.

Wednesday February 23, 2022 at 3:43 pm

The two United Nations bodies, World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) are responsible for health-related issues and employment relations, respectively,  jointly released a new guide for health workers on February 22, 2022. The health and other issues relating to the work-life of health workers have come under heavy scrutiny after the covid-19 pandemic hit the world more than two years ago, and the distress and work pressures of the health workers were first noticed. The joint statement by World Health Organisation and International Labor Organisation tries to correct these wrongs.

The guide details about development and implementation of stronger occupational health and safety programs for the health workers across the world, a World Health Organisation statement declared. It further added that developing and implementing sustainable programs for the management of occupational health and safety for health workers at national, sub-national, and health facility levels. Such programs should cover all kinds of occupational hazards, whether they are infectious, ergonomic, physical, chemical, or psycho-social. 

The guide also outlined the roles to be played by governments, employers, workers, and occupational health services in protecting and promoting the health, safety, and wellbeing of health workers. It asserted that continuous investment, training, monitoring, and collaboration were essential to sustain progress in implementing the programs.  

The director of WHO Health Workforce Department, James Campbell, said, “COVID-19 has exposed the cost of the systemic lack of safeguards for the health, safety, and wellbeing of health workers. In the first 18 months of the pandemic, about 115,500 health workers died from COVID-19,”  

It was observed that the countries that had already developed and were actively implementing these occupational health and safety programs for health workers had managed to reduce work-related injuries and diseases and sickness absence, along with improved work environment, increased work productivity, and retention of health workers.

“Effective mechanisms should be put in place to ensure continuous collaboration between employers, managers and health workers, with the aim of protecting health and safety at work,” Alette van Leur, the director of International Labor Organisation Sectoral Policies Department, declared. She further added, “Health workers, like all other workers, should enjoy their right to decent work, safe and healthy working environments and social protection for health care, sickness absence, and occupational diseases and injuries,”  It must be noted that the very nature of work done by health workers may make them vulnerable to some of the health risks unique to the field of the work.

 Vera Paquete-Perdigao, the director of International Labor Organisation Governance and Tripartism Department, declared, “Such programs are a core element for the effective management of occupational safety and health, as informed by ILO Convention No. 187 and provide an opportunity for coordinated action by all stakeholders through social dialogue towards common objectives for promoting decent work in the health sector and increasing the resilience of health institutions,”

Health workers were essential workers who acted as frontline warriors in the war against Covid-19 fought in India and the world. That may have resulted in unknown traumatic experiences, particularly in developing countries like India, where the processes and procedures needed to monitor, evaluate, improve, and maintain workers’ health are unfortunately missing, and employers tend to ignore their needs to keep their needs their costs low. The guide issued by the World Health Organisation and International Labor Organisation is just that, and there are no compulsions to follow these guidelines. No governments need to make commitments in this regard though some new laws may get created forcing employers to adopt practices.