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Key workers need greater protections amidst COVID fight, new ILO report warns

April 28, 2021
A convenience store requires staff to wear a mask, observe physical distance, and use a plastic sheet barrier as safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Muntinlupa City, Philippines. — courtesy ILO/Minette Rimando
A convenience store requires staff to wear a mask, observe physical distance, and use a plastic sheet barrier as safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Muntinlupa City, Philippines. — courtesy ILO/Minette Rimando

GENEVA — The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the workplace dangers faced by key workers who need far greater protection to do their jobs safely, the International Labour Organization (ILO) said on Tuesday.

A new report by the ILO, released to mark World Day for Safety and Health at Work, found that 7,000 health workers have died since the outbreak of the crisis, while 136 million health and social care workers are at risk of contracting COVID-19 through work.

The document, Anticipate, prepare and respond to crises. Invest now in resilient OSH (Occupation Safety and Health) systems, looks at how countries can minimize the risks for everyone in the workplace, in the event of future health emergencies.

It also highlights the mental health pressures associated with the pandemic: one in five healthcare workers globally, has reported depression and anxiety symptoms.

Strong, resilient safety systems

The report outlines the critical roles played during the pandemic by strong workplace guidance backed by enforcement, and calls for them to be dovetailed with national crisis emergency plans.

“There could be no clearer demonstration of the importance of a strong, resilient, occupational safety and health environment. Recovery and prevention will require better national policies, institutional and regulatory frameworks, properly integrated into crisis response frameworks,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.

Pros and cons of teleworking

It’s not only health and care sectors that have proven to be sources of COVID-19 outbreaks.

Many workplaces where staff are in closed environments or spend time in close proximity with each other — including in shared accommodation or transport — are affected.

And while teleworking has been essential in limiting the spread of the virus, it has also blurred the lines between work and private life, adding to people’s mental stress.

Sixty-five percent of enterprises surveyed by the ILO and the G20 OSH Network, focused on occupational safety, reported that worker morale has been difficult to sustain while teleworking.

The report stated that small and micro-sized enterprises have often found it hard to meet official safety-at-work requirements because many have lacked the resources to adapt to the threats posed by the pandemic.

In the informal economy, the UN agency warned that many of the world’s 1.6 billion workers in the sector, especially in developing countries, have continued working despite lockdowns, restrictions on movement and social interaction.

This has put them at high risk of catching the virus, yet most do not have access to basic social protection, such as sick leave or sick pay.

Social dialogue is key

International labor standards (ILS) offer specific guidance on how to respond to these challenges and reduce the risk of virus transmission in the workplace, the report says.

They provide tools to implement safety-first measures and to ensure that workers, employers and governments, can maintain decent work, while adjusting to the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic.

ILS also encourages social dialogue as the best way to ensure that procedures and protocols are effectively implemented and accepted, the report concludes. — UN News


April 28, 2021
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