Staff of Mount Sinai hospital in Astoria, Queens, dressed in protective gear during the COVID-19 outbreak
Staff of Mount Sinai hospital in Astoria, Queens, during the COVID-19 outbreak
Photo:UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Anticipate, prepare and respond to crises - Invest Now in Resilient Occupational Safety and Health Systems

Since emerging as a global crisis in early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has had profound impacts everywhere. The pandemic has touched nearly every aspect of the world of work, from the risk of transmission of the virus in workplaces, to occupational safety and health (OSH) risks that have emerged as a result of measures to mitigate the spread of the virus. Shifts to new forms of working arrangements, such as the widespread reliance on teleworking, have, for example, presented many opportunities for workers but also posed potential OSH risks, including psychosocial risks and violence in particular.

The World Day for Safety and Health at Work 2021 focuses on leveraging the elements of an OSH system as set out in the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006 (No. 187). The world day report examines how the current crisis demonstrates the importance of strengthening these OSH systems, including occupational health services, at both the national and undertaking level.

The ILO will take this opportunity to raise awareness and stimulate dialogue on the importance of creating and investing in resilient OSH systems, drawing on both regional and country examples in mitigating and preventing the Spread of COVID-19 at the workplace.

Background

In 2003, the International Labour Organization (ILO), began to observe World Day in order to stress the prevention of accidents and diseases at work, capitalizing on the ILO's traditional strengths of tripartism and social dialogue.

This celebration is an integral part of the Global Strategy on Occupational Safety and Health of the ILO, as documented in the Conclusions of the International Labour Conference in June 2003. One of the main pillars of the Global Strategy is advocacy, the World Day for Safety and Health at Work is a significant tool to raise awareness of how to make work safe and healthy and of the need to raise the political profile of occupational safety and health.

28 April is also the International Commemoration Day for Dead and Injured Workers organized worldwide by the trade union movement since 1996.

Prevention of occupational accidents and diseases

The annual World Day for Safety and Health at Work on 28 April promotes the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases globally. It is an awareness-raising campaign intended to focus international attention on the magnitude of the problem and on how promoting and creating a safety and health culture can help reduce the number of work-related deaths and injuries.

Each of us is responsible for stopping deaths and injuries on the job. As governments we are responsible for providing the infrastructure — laws and services — necessary to ensure that workers remain employable and that enterprises flourish; this includes the development of a national policy and programme and a system of inspection to enforce compliance with occupational safety and health legislation and policy. As employers we are responsible for ensuring that the working environment is safe and healthy. As workers we are responsible to work safely and to protect ourselves and not to endanger others, to know our rights and to participate in the implementation of preventive measures.

Emerging risks at work

New and emerging occupational risks may be caused by technical innovation or by social or organizational change, such as:

  • New technologies and production processes, e.g. nanotechnology, biotechnology
  • New working conditions, e.g. higher workloads, work intensification from downsizing, poor conditions associated with migration for work, jobs in the informal economy
  • Emerging forms of employment, e.g. self-employment, outsourcing, temporary contracts

They may be more widely recognized through better scientific understanding, e.g. the effects of ergonomic risks on musculoskeletal disorders.

They may be influenced by changes in perceptions about the importance of certain risk factors, e.g. the effects of psychosocial factors on work-related stress.

We have learned from past crisis that workplaces can be of vital importance to prevent and control outbreaks. Adequate safety and health measures at work can play a crucial role in containing the spread of the disease, while protecting workers and society at large. Governments, employers and workers all have a role to play in tackling COVID-19 crisis, and their collaboration is key.

 

A training session on coronavirus testing takes place at the Best-dos Santos Public Health Laboratory in Barbados.

Everyone is talking about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Be sure to get your facts from reliable sources. The UN offices, field missions, agencies, funds and programmes are providing new information as it becomes available. Here are some of their resource pages.

 

A seamstress sews a garment in a "Multiwear" factory at the Sonapi industrial park.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) is the United Nations agency for the world of work. It sets international labour standards, promotes rights at work and encourages decent employment opportunities, the enhancement of social protection and the strengthening of dialogue on work-related issues.

 

A crowd of women sitting and laughing

International days and weeks are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool. We also mark other UN observances.