Occupational safety and health is at the heart of COVID-19 recovery: Mainstreaming policies on infection prevention and control, psychosocial risks and ergonomics is key to effective crisis response

News | 23 March 2021
by Ariel Pino, Specialist, Social Protection and Occupational Safety and Health, ILO Caribbean  

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the way of conducting businesses by switching to non-traditional forms of work and alternative operations procedures, the ultimate objective being the reduction of the spread of the virus at work. An inevitable consequence that has arisen from this situation is the challenge to keep workplaces safe and healthy to protect workers and employers as well third parties. Equally important has been the adaptation of workplaces and working methods to ensure a safe return to work following lockdown periods. Ultimately, safe and healthy working conditions are fundamental for decent work and they remain the foundation upon which policy guidance for recovery must be based.

The world of work will be different for some time and the adaptation of workplaces to the evolution of the pandemic, still uncertain, will remain high in the agenda of governments, employers and workers. The ILO has identified 10 steps to crate safe and healthy workplaces to return to work in time of COVID-19. The tool is also applicable for adapting workplaces that remained opened during the pandemic. It is based on the international labour standards, notably the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155), the Occupational Health Services Convention, 1985 (No. 161), the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006 (No. 187), and their corresponding Recommendations. Building safe and healthy workplaces requires the engagement of workers, employers and governments through the establishment of a system of rights and responsibilities and constant monitoring and improvement.

A coordinated response from the health and labour sectors can create enabling environments in which workers and people can work and feel safe, therefore engaging fully in the reopening of economies to recover the growing path. Nevertheless, important issues remain at the surface. The pandemic has accelerated teleworking modalities and it is expected that more people will continue doing so beyond the crisis. Regulatory frameworks and working modalities will need to be adapted to effectively address Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) matters, such as psychosocial risks and ergonomics, during teleworking. The responsibility of the employer for the protection of the OSH of workers also applies to teleworking.

There is a growing concern about making vaccination mandatory for workers. Although employers have the right and obligation to set OSH workplace policies, the controversy surrounding the requirement of vaccination of employees persist.

Social dialogue at national and company levels provides powerful responses to build safe and healthy workplaces. Tripartite national and workplace OSH committees are the best places to address concerns and create trust through the design, implementation and monitoring of OSH policies and practices in the context of the pandemic.

A safe and healthy workplace is a better place!

Download the ILO’s 10-step tool for a safe and healthy return to work in times of COVID-19