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Work improvement in health services

ILO and WHO team up to improve working conditions in the health sector

The two UN agencies are publishing the HealthWISE package – consisting of an Action Manual and Trainers’ Guide – that aims not only to improve working conditions for health workers but also to deliver better quality services for patients.

Press release | 30 July 2014
GENEVA – The International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have jointly developed the “HealthWISE – Work improvement in health services” programme that combines action and learning.

HealthWISE uses a practical, participatory methodology that encourages managers and staff to work together to promote safe and healthy workplaces and to improve work practices.

“Unsafe working conditions are still common in many workplaces in the health sector and may often even affect the quality of health services provided,” said Christiane Wiskow, the ILO’s health services sector specialist. “Thus it is essential to ensure that decent working conditions are provided to health workers. This includes taking into account their health and well-being.”

Unsafe working conditions are still common in many workplaces in the health sector and may often even affect the quality of health services provided."
Christiane Wiskow, ILO Specialist
“Health workers are exposed to health risks due to the nature of their work,” added Susan Wilburn, WHO expert on occupational and environmental health.

“Lifting or moving of patients, for example, contributes to the high rates of back injuries commonly found among health professionals. Worldwide, an estimated three million incidents of sharps injuries happen every year, causing more than one-third of Hepatitis B and C infections among health workers. Health workers may worry about their exposure to health hazards, including HIV and TB, at their workplace, if proper protection is not provided,” she added.

Pilot projects applying HealthWISE have already been implemented, for example, in Senegal, where the new approach led to better information and practices on working conditions and sensitization of health workers in hospitals about HIV. Health workers benefited from training sessions to increase their knowledge of HIV infection and of safer work practices.

HealthWISE promotes an integrated approach for improving safety of injections and handling of sharps.

“An integrated approach means introducing a protocol that combines all the different aspects of work improvement, such as behaviours, education, equipment, policies and procedures,” explained Alice Ouedraogo, Chief of the ILO’s HIV and the World of Work Branch.

“It ensures not only the availability of improved equipment and facilities, such as clearly labelled and puncture-proof sharps disposal boxes, but also enhanced workplace prevention and support policies and programmes to protect health workers from occupational exposure to hazardous agents, for example TB, or HIV.”

HealthWISE contributes to improving health services’ performance and ability to deliver quality care to patients, by paying attention to a supportive and enabling work environment. It does so by promoting the application of smart, simple and low-cost solutions, and by utilizing local resources, which lead to tangible benefits to workers and to health services.

The HealthWISE package consists of an “Action Manual” and a “Trainers’ Guide”, which include modules on topics such as controlling occupational hazards and improving workplace safety; biological hazards and infection control; tackling discrimination, harassment and violence at the workplace; and promoting greener and healthier workplaces.

The Action Manual helps to initiate and sustain changes for improvement and is designed to promote learning-by-doing, while the Trainers’ Guide (which includes a CD-ROM) contains guidance and tools designed to implement a training course.

The two agencies plan to develop a network of HealthWISE local trainers and practitioners to promote practical approaches that will strengthen health systems in their own countries.

For more information, please contact Christiane Wiskow, ILO’s Health Services Sector Specialist. at or the ILO Department of Communication at or +4122/799-7912.