Occupational safety and health in public health emergencies: A manual for protecting health workers and responders

This manual provides an overview of the main OSH risks faced by emergency responders during disease outbreaks and other emergencies, such as natural disasters, chemical incidents, radiological emergencies and emergencies involving conflicts.

Over the last five decades, the world has witnessed a wide range of disasters and emergencies, both natural and caused by people. These include outbreaks of infectious diseases (e.g. the COVID-19 pandemic and previous outbreaks of SARS, H1N1 influenza, Ebola, cholera and Zika virus), radiation emergencies (e.g. Chernobyl and Fukushima), and chemical emergencies (e.g. the Bhopal toxic gas leak and Deepwater Horizon oil spill). In addition, natural disasters have caused destruction and major loss of life, among them the Indian Ocean tsunami and earthquakes, floods and cyclones in the Caribbean, Haiti, Nepal, Pakistan and the Philippines.

In light of all these events, the need for better occupational safety and health protection for emergency workers has been recognized, more and more, as a critical priority.

This manual aims to help organizations and workplaces better prepare and respond to disasters and emergencies. It focuses particularly on needs in low-resource settings. The manual offers technical guidance on good practices and procedures for establishing systems that can: 1) reduce occupational exposures, injury, illness and death among response workers; 2) reduce stress and fear; and 3) promote the health and well-being of health-care and other response workers.