Our latest IOSH Covid-19 webinar with the World Health Organization focused on protecting healthcare workers on the front line. Hosted once again by IOSH President Dr Andrew Sharman, this was the second IOSH webinar in collaboration with the World Health Organization and the third so far in IOSH’s weekly series.
Over 1,000 participants joined to consider current risks, challenges and practical measures protecting health workers in response to COVID-19.
“Those people most closely, directly and immediately involved in this crisis are, of course, health and social care workers,” said Andrew Sharman. “We dedicate today’s webinar to their safety, health and wellbeing.”
He also promoted the live survey of OSH professionals IOSH is running on behalf of the WHO to gather experiences of what works most effectively to protect workers. It remains open until 24 April and we’re encouraging as many as possible to complete it.
The first speaker was Mark Parsons, Chair of IOSH’s Health and Social Care sector group. Mark, an interim assistant director of health and safety for NHS Wales who is currently coordinating supplies of PPE to healthcare workers. He emphasised the need for consistency in guidance, said that PPE-supply issues in the UK were starting to be addressed but that OSH professionals should work closely with procurement teams in their regions, and he also raised concerns around testing for health and social care staff.
The next presenter, Professor Claudio Colosio, with his team from the Santi Paolo and Carlo Hospitals in Milan, Italy gave a riveting account of what happened when the first Covid-19 outbreaks struck Northern Italy. Many of his insights demonstrated just how much health professionals in Italy are continuing to learn about coronavirus.
He revealed that testing for and tracking of occupational Covid-19 exposures happened quite quickly at first – one positive member of staff had had at least 200 contacts, all of whom were mapped. However, as the situation escalated, they began to realise the sheer scale of people who were infectious when presymptomatic or who were asymptomatic (90%), meaning that some tests – for instance, for fever – were of limited use.
During that period, Italian doctors also began to understand more about the range of symptoms, which he outlined in some detail, and new antibody tests were trialled. One of the most disturbing observations was how long infections in staff lasted. The average in his hospitals was around 22 days, but some still showed signs after 46. This has implications for quarantine periods. He recommends readmission to work only after 14 days with no symptoms.
Safety of healthcare workers in Italy was compromised at first by lack of facemasks. Through experimentation, they found surgical masks or FFP2 for most were a suitable form of PPE, but better (FFP3) are needed in healthcare scenarios where aerosol droplets are likely.
A group of three speakers from the World Health Organization in Geneva then contributed their most up-to-date responses and advice.
Alice Simniceanu of the Infection Prevention and Control Team, Catherine Kane from the WHO’s Health Workforce Department and Occupational Health Team Leader Dr Iván Ivanov all commented on ranges of risks for health and social care workers in different contexts, from physical to psychosocial and cross-cutting and the tailored advice they’re creating based on the best available current data and analysis.
Dr Ivanov commented that “We learn a lot from these [IOSH] webinars, which is why we’re pleased to take part.”
The team covered everything from effective human resources responses to the crisis in different organisations to best health surveillance approaches for healthcare workers in all settings, including community health in poorer regions.
Over the 90-minute session, well over 100 questions were received and these generated answers, insights and lively debates based on comparing guidance with experiences on the ground.
Professor Colosio is a strong advocate for as many people as possible wearing face masks as a precaution, while other presenters cautioned that the general population if they’re not symptomatic should ensure PPE supplies go first to health and social care workers as a priority.
IOSH Health and Social Care Group committee member Fiona Potter reminded participants that PPE is low in the hierarchy of controls for OSH and also that correct “donning and doffing” of face masks is vital.
Professor Colosio, an expert in occupational health, reported that in later stages of this crisis, health worker exhaustion and burnout becomes an ever greater risk and reality. His concerns were backed up by all other speakers.
Mark Parsons revealed examples of psychological impacts affecting people close to him and Fiona Potter strongly endorsed efforts to recognise, praise and raise the morale of health care workers during this stressful time. “It’s often the little things that really help,” she said.
Dr Andrew Sharman ended by saluting and thanking healthcare workers around the world.
He promoted IOSH’s coronavirus resource web pages and confirmed that recordings of all webinars as well as presentations and details of the next webinar in the series are all on IOSH’s Covid-19 webinars page.
The next webinar, on Thursday 23 April, will be The role of the OSH professional - supporting your business throughout the Covid-19 crisis. Find out more and register here.
To see a message of solidarity and support from IOSH President Dr Andrew Sharman, visit https://youtu.be/3esouCDREM8