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IOSH Covid-19 policy position

Summary position

Occupational safety and health (OSH) professionals have important roles during the Coronavirus pandemic, helping organisations and governments to protect lives and manage OSH and wellbeing risks, business continuity and sustainability. The OSH profession is ideally placed to do this, working throughout all sectors and for organisations of all sizes and types right across the globe. IOSH, the world's leading OSH body, is actively supporting the invaluable work of the OSH profession as it helps organisations and countries to deal with this unprecedented public health emergency.

Saving lives, protecting health and wellbeing, and preventing Coronavirus spread must be central to Covid-19 responses from employers and public policymakers. Organisations must show leadership by protecting workers, clients, consumers and communities from the virus, using workplaces to promote safe practice, prevention messages and control strategies. Governments need to provide health, social and employment support for their populations and employers must ensure that healthcare workers, others on the frontline and all potentially exposed workers are properly protected and resourced. At the same time, vital action to protect workforces and the public from other serious harms at work must also continue. All these are areas that OSH professionals can assist with.

Our position

During times of major challenge and crisis such as Covid-19, occupational safety and health (OSH) professionals have important roles in helping organisations and governments to protect lives and manage OSH and wellbeing risks, business continuity and sustainability. They work throughout all sectors and for organisations of all sizes and types across the globe and IOSH actively supports this.

The Coronavirus pandemic and large-scale loss of life and human suffering is a public health crisis that tests the world’s collective capacity to respond. Protecting people is the top priority and decision-makers must show leadership on this. IOSH believes it is essential to protect workers’ physical and mental health, prevent exposure to Covid-19, monitor the disease and its spread, ensure access to the best treatment for any workers who become ill and provide wellbeing support for those who are quarantined. We are pleased to support this vital work by sharing resources with OSH professionals, employers and other stakeholders across the world.

Workplaces everywhere can be effective focal points for guidance on preventing the spread of infectious diseases like Covid-19. IOSH provides access to key information and webinars on pandemic-related OSH and wellbeing and preventing virus-exposure at work, coordinating with other leading international agencies. This supports the important role of OSH professionals and their multidisciplinary approach, which includes advising on preventing Covid-19 spread at work and helping organisations to protect lives, identify solutions, safely redesign activities and ensure OSH for workers and supply chains. It also means ensuring that vital action continues to protect workforces and the public from other serious harms and planning for safely resuming activity post-pandemic.

Governments and organisations must safeguard all workers and pay special attention to those workers most at-risk from Covid-19 due to factors such as health-status and age or their exposure to the virus. Healthcare workers and others on the frontline must have adequate staffing-levels, training and personal protective equipment, together with appropriate health tests, mental health support and return-to-work processes. Organisations should prioritise work that supports societal efforts to fight the Coronavirus pandemic, while safely postponing non-essential activity as necessary.

More generally, public policy needs to encourage compliance with infection prevention measures and quarantining. This requires providing access to reliable and clear information and advice, employment protection and income support for all affected workers, including self-employed, gig, zero-hours and migrant workers. It also requires national emergency plans that allow for an increase in healthcare facilities to meet the growth in demand and prepares for months of national and international disruption. While global coordination led by the G20 on equipment, treatment and vaccines, support for lower-income countries, improved emergency preparations, and longer-term recovery plans have all been recommended.

The facts

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global public-health emergency in January 2020 and in March, escalated Covid-19 to a pandemic, with rolling data on cases, deaths and recoveries.

  • Updated advice is available from reliable sources, such as WHO, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Lack of immunity in the population (and absence of an effective vaccine) means Covid-19 has spread extensively, raising a significant challenge for organisations. For example, the UK Government believes a fifth of the workforce could be absent at the peak of the disease.
  • Globally, it has been estimated the economic and labour crisis created by Covid-19 could increase unemployment by up to nearly 25 million people, according to the International Labour Organization.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic brings with it the third and greatest economic, financial and social shock of the 21st Century, after 9/11 and the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, reported by OECD.
  • As this is a new virus, it is unclear how long the threat will last and governments and organisations must plan for months of national and international disruption. 
  • Some confusion has been created by misinformation and myths circulated on social media and the WHO have created a myth buster web page to counter this.
  • The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the International Organisation of Employers (IOE) urged The International Monetary Fund, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the G7, G20, the World Bank and Regional Development Banks to support to economies in need during this global pandemic.
  • In March, the G20 committed “…to do whatever it takes to overcome the pandemic…” and tasked health ministers to develop a set of G20 urgent actions.

IOSH resources

Guides and online tools

  • IOSH guidance and webinars on Covid-19 iosh.com/coronavirus (2020).
  • IOSH webinar Ergonomics and mental health for agile workers (2017).
  • IOSH guide on how to effectively manage travel risk, including preventative measures, emergency planning and managing the safety, health and wellbeing of workers (2016).
  • IOSH guidance on how to protect the workforce while remote working (2014).

Consultation responses

  • IOSH response to ISSA European Network Survey on priorities and activities for the 2020-2022 triennium (March 2020), for further information, contact consultation@iosh.com

Research reports

  • IOSH has commissioned research, Assessing hospital-acquired infection risks to healthcare workers from patients infected with aerosol – transmitted pathogens (in progress).
  • IOSH-commissioned research, Out of sight, out of mind? Managing distributed workers’ occupational safety and health (2017).

IOSH press releases

  • IOSH: Halt construction work that isn’t designed to help save lives, 27 March 2020.
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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

IOSH and its members are playing a crucial role during these unprecedented and challenging times. We are here front-and-centre supporting the health, safety and wellbeing of workers and organisations around the world, helping to prevent, contain and delay the spread of this illness.

 

Read our Covid-19 guidance, providing important information on preventative measures, emergency planning and ways of managing workplace safety, health and wellbeing.

Read more