Our impact, Their voices

Safety in practice: preventing workplaces from COVID-19

Extending its support beyond the technical advise, ILO-India reached out to workers and enterprises directly to ensure ‘Safety and Health at Workplace during COVID-19’

Feature | India | 02 June 2021
Workers and employers, especially the ones engaged in essential services, are at a higher risk of getting infected by COVID-19. The ILO was quick to provide policy advice that protecting workers and creating a safe environment at the workplace is a priority.

However, often translating the policy advice into action faces practical and experiential challenges, especially in the South Asian context where informal employment is at scale and the economy is dominated by small and medium enterprises. Sizable number of employers and workers in this region have little or no access to guidance on mitigating COVID-19 infection risks at their workplaces. Considering the urgency of the situation, ILO in India reached out directly to few of the most vulnerable workforces on priority.

The preparations
A timely intervention of materializing and disseminating the practical guidance on ‘Safety and Health at Workplace during COVID-19’ was implemented with selected States, employers’ and workers’ organizations and proved to be a game changer.
Tsuyoshi Kawakami, Senior Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) expert with the ILO, said, “The existing guidelines on preventing COVID-19 at workplace informed about the required measures such as social distancing or self-health check-up, however, in context of small or micro work units, applying these measures were a challenge. We expanded the narrative to explain how these suggested measures can be implemented at work.”

Based on the ILO’s participatory training methodologies, an informative webinar was developed to advise good practices and low-cost improvements to ensure safety at work.The entire webinar information was categorised into four parts:
  • Practicing physical distancing
  • Equipping workers to maintain hygiene
  • Promoting the self-health check of workers
  • Joint risk assessments by employers and workers.
ILO’s multi-country network of employers, workers and OSH experts contributed information and visuals of safety measures relevant to small enterprises and at home-based work settings. The webinar presentation was supplemented with a ‘Prevention and Mitigation of COVID-19 at Work Action Checklist’ translated in Hindi, Bangla and Malayalam as a take-away

Seven webinars were organized with State government officials and representatives of employers and workers in India during May to August 2020. The network of ongoing Development Cooperation projects was utilized for mobilized participants.

The impact
Within a few weeks after webinars, the changes were visible in the offices and enterprises. ILO’s tripartite constituents, Government, Workers and Employers worked together with the participants to implement the suggested safety practices. A few of the participants even shared the photographs as evidence of change.
After the webinar, a participating company assigned workers to regularly sanitize high-touch areas @ILO

The State of Kerala, where all three of the ILO’s constituents participated at the webinar, showed significant improvements in safety at work. Effective collaboration and cooperation between the constituents was key in adaptation and effective implementation of safety practices.

One of the employer member, Mr Nandakumar Nair, Sr Associate Vice President, Carborandum Universal Ltd, Ernakulam said, “Unlike other COVID-19 safety webinars, the one with the ILO was interactive and provided us direct access to OSH experts. This allowed us to ask doubts and find immediate solutions in consultation with them.”
The employers further cascaded contents of the ILO’s webinar with their staff and other affiliated factories. They coordinated with factory managers and workers to implement suggested activities guiding physical distancing and better hygiene on priority.
A participating enterprise implemented physical distancing with staggered sitting in the canteen @ILO

A worker participant from Kerala echoed the importance of employer and worker cooperation in the safety planning. Mr Vinodhkumar, Chemist (Panel Operation), Hindustan Organic Chemicals Ltd, Ernakulam and the employee (worker) representative said, “ILO’s suggestion for joint risk assessment was the most important. Joint discussions between workers and employers can produce practical ideas for improvement of safety. It also ensures that everyone feels responsible for and contributes to the implementation of safety improvements at the workplace.”

The Government officials attending the webinar were innovative in their dissemination of the guidance materials. “We used WhatsApp to cascade the training contents among employers and workers of our districts. The visual contents were easy to transfer and engaging. We did a follow up call with the factories and workplaces after sharing the contents,” shared one of the participating Government officers from Kerala.

OSH webinar with constituents in Kerala @ILO
Learnings and way forward
“Participants were quick to learn that the measures for COVID-19 prevention were not difficult to put in practice and thus, were motivated to adapt them. Low-cost ways of improving safety encouraged even smaller organizations to absorb them,” said Ruchira Chandra, Programme Officer with the ILO-India.

Experience from this guiding activity underlined that the safety measures are effective when employers and workers implement them together. Employers acknowledged that workers’ participation is the most essential element in COVID-19 risk assessments for identifying high-risk areas of contamination and situations at the workplace. Among others, training with the State Governments provided the largest outreach and ensured wider dissemination of ILO’s guidance.

To reach out to a wider audience, ILO developed a series of five animation videos ‘Safe Return to Work’ explaining the webinar content in creative manner. With these films, more employers and workers, especially in small enterprises and informal economy workplaces will be able to build their resilience against this pandemic.

Annex I

Details of the OSH webinars conducted by ILO in India.
Date PlaceParticipants
4 May 2020Tamil NaduEmployers and SCORE Sustaining Competitive and Responsible Enterprises) trainers
27 May 2020Uttar PradeshTrade union representatives (Global supply chain/home-based workers)
28 May 2020Uttar PradeshEmployers (Global supply chain/home-based workers)
18 June 2020RajasthanGovernment officials, employers and workers of the stone industry (Stone industry in cooperation sector)
6 July 2020IndiaEmployers/SCOPE (Standing Conference of Public Enterprises) members
16 July 2020Uttar PradeshGovernment officials (Global supply chain/home-based workers)
6 August 2020KeralaTripartite constituents –government officials, employers and workers