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Global collaboration to tackle Covid-19 on International Workers’ Memorial Day and World Day for Safety and Health at Work

Occupational safety and health (OSH) professionals from around the world joined forces to tackle the spread of Covid-19 on International Workers’ Memorial Day and World Day for Safety and Health at Work on Tuesday 28 April.

The day paid tribute to workers who have tragically lost their lives on the frontline to save others and shared good health and safety practice to manage the spread of the disease.

IOSH supported International Workers’ Memorial Day which was organised by the UK’s Trade Union Congress (TUC), and the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) World Day for Safety and Health at Work by participating in several activities. 

The day began with IOSH President Dr Andrew Sharman sharing a video message on social media to urge everyone to participate in a one-minute silence at 11am BST, midday CEST, to remember the sacrifices made by so many workers during the pandemic.

He encouraged OSH professionals to join global webinars to get the latest information on managing workplace safety and health during these challenging times.

IOSH Chief Executive Bev Messinger led the minute’s silence on Zoom, which IOSH staff joined. This was followed by IOSH staff members displaying the hashtag messages #IWMD20 and #WorldDayForSafetyAndHealthAtWork to help raise awareness of the initiatives.

At 2pm BST, 3pm CEST, IOSH’s Head of Policy and Regulatory Engagement Richard Jones joined a panel of global OSH experts for ILO’s webinar – ‘Stop the pandemic: safety and health at work can save lives’, contributing an IOSH paper ‘Covid-19: How do OSH professionals impact public policy?

The session highlighted key vulnerabilities in relation to Covid-19, such as working in unknown conditions, pressures on the health and social care sector, lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), impact on the global supply chain, business continuity issues, and the lack of a vaccine.

ILO’s Dr Manal Azzi shared insights from The Safe Day report - In the face of a pandemic: Ensuring Safety and Health at Work, which IOSH contributed to. The report explored measures to prevent and control the risk of contagion as well as psychosocial, ergonomic and other work-related risks.

Michelle M. Robertson, a member of the Executive Committee of the International Ergonomics Association, explained the ergonomic hazards of working from home and the importance of having a dedicated workspace to create a boundary between work and home life.

Leuven Centre for Environment and Health and Department of Public Health and Primary Care’s Lode Godderis, emphasised that healthcare workers will need time recover from this pandemic. He also highlighted the difficulty for workers of focusing on their jobs, while at the same time, looking after their children at home. He called for a system to make this possible.

IOSH’s Richard Jones provided important advice on returning to work safely, including considering national policies, getting good health and safety advice from OSH professionals, providing Covid-19 awareness training, re-designing workplaces, ensuring physical distancing, good workplace hygiene and cleaning facilities, staggering times of work, and having fewer staff on premises.

The webinar concluded with the lessons learned so far. These included focusing on what we know and taking a global approach; that prevention is the only way to tackle this disease, as there is no vaccine yet; ensuring everyone can use and access technology platforms; and the need for testing and analysing data, sharing experiences and reflecting on best practice.

Finally, at 3pm West Africa Time (WAT), IOSH Vice-President Kayode Fowode and IOSH Chief Executive Bev Messinger hosted a West Africa webinar called ‘Covid-19 in Nigeria: managing the pandemic – supporting the health and safety of workers, now and post lockdown’.

Expert speakers from the World Health Organization (WHO), Chartered Institute of Personnel Management of Nigeria and Lagos State Safety Commission gave important insights on the pandemic in the region.

Dr Ivan D. Ivanov, Occupational Health Team Leader at WHO, said more than 35,000 healthcare workers worldwide were infected with Covid-19 and emphasised that Africa has a shortage of them. He highlighted the increase in violence and stigma against healthcare workers, with between 8-38% suffering from physical violence. Ivan encouraged delegates to look at WHO resources for more information.  

Ms. Busola Alofe, Chief Executive Officer at the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management of Nigeria, stated there were more than 1,300 Covid-19 cases and 40 deaths in the country. She said this was an opportunity for human resource professionals to build knowledge, skills and competencies in OSH to keep workers safe.

Lanre Mojolo, Director General at the Lagos State Safety Commission, shared examples of what the new workplace would look like and said they will be introducing new workplace guidelines such as a no handshaking policy, enforcing handwashing, ensuring sick workers stay home, working from home wherever possible, reducing business travel, and checking workers’ temperature.  

To conclude, IOSH President Dr Andrew Sharman said:

“I’m proud of how the OSH profession has collaborated with other professions to share good practice on managing the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic globally.

“International Workers’ Memorial Day and World Day for Safety and Health at Work was a great opportunity to share knowledge on global digital platforms such as webinars and social media – and I’m delighted that our social media messages reached an audience of more than 560,000.”

“We all need to continue to do our bit prevent this disease and support key workers, because without a vaccine prevention is the only way forward.”

Download IOSH’s free Covid-19 resources.

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