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‘Caring for those who care’: New WHO, ILO guidance on protecting health care workers

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Geneva — Health care workers who treat COVID-19 patients deserve more robust occupational safety and health programs, according to the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization.

A new guide published by the agencies – Caring for those who care – features recommendations for health care employers on developing and implementing stronger OSH programs. Countries that have successfully done so have experienced “reductions in work-related injuries and diseases and sickness absence, as well as improvements in the work environment, work productivity and retention of health workers.”

The programs should focus on quality and safety of care, workforce management and environmental health, WHO and ILO say, and should cover all occupational hazards, including infectious, ergonomic, physical, chemical and psychosocial. These programs require a system of management, along with continuous improvement; regular dialogue between employers, workers and their representatives; and the involvement of other stakeholders.

Key portions of a program should include:

  • A written policy available in all health care facilities
  • Joint labor-management committees for health and safety
  • Regular training programs for all health care workers and specific target groups
  • Documented risk assessments, prevention and mitigation of occupational hazards
  • Arrangements for recording and notification of occupational incidents, diseases and “dangerous occurrences”
 

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the health sector was among the most hazardous sectors to work in,” Maria Neira, director of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health at WHO, said in a press release. “Health workers suffered from infections, musculoskeletal disorders and injuries, workplace violence and harassment, burnout, and allergies from the poor working environment.”

WHO and ILO vow to continue to provide guidance and assistance to countries developing and implementing OSH programs for health care workers.

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