Teleworking has been widely implemented in many settings – and while this is often essential to limit the spread of the virus and maintain jobs and business continuity, it has led to certain OSH concerns including ergonomic and psychosocial risks. It might provide workers with increased flexibility but many of them also struggle with “presenteeism”, ie the blurring of lines between work and private life, musculoskeletal disorders caused by stationary work in front of a computer, the responsibility of caring for children or parents while working, and the social isolation that may come from not being in the office – which affects professional development.
The pandemic has also witnessed an increase in the number of cases of domestic violence, including for workers confined to the home due to lockdowns, with up to five times more calls globally to domestic violence helplines.
The report highlighted the crucial role of international labour standards (ILS) in responding to the COVID-19 crisis while urging the countries to implement the same, which includes promoting, respecting and implementing ILS provisions on occupational safety and health, working arrangements, protection of specific categories of workers, non-discrimination, social and employment security while adjusting to the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic. A wide range of ILO labour standards on employment, social protection, wage protection, promotion of MSMEs or workplace cooperation can also be taken when tackling the crisis and promoting economic recovery.
National public health and OSH system needs to be strengthened along with a sound national policy and regulatory framework which is essential for the protection and promotion of physical and mental health at work. Such a system is required to ensure that working environments are safe and healthy, and that there is a clear and well-known established set of rights and duties. The report calls for recognition of COVID-19 as an occupational disease in all countries. Presently, only a few counties have this provision, and workers are compensated for any infection at work or the consequences of working under stressful conditions due to COVID-19.
There are also new legal requirements to prevent the spread of the virus in the workplace to adapt proactively to new contexts and to allow for rapid and appropriate emergency responses. Enterprises need to identify potential sources of exposure, taking into account all work areas and tasks performed by workers. Almost all countries have issued guidelines, but there is still much to be done.
Even in G20 countries, ventilation and air filters are available for 73 per cent, physical barriers 64 per cent, and using marker tape on the floor, one-way systems etc 64 per cent. Organizational and administrative measures included teleworking 82 per cent, holding meetings virtually 80 per cent, physical distancing 73 per cent, involving workers in reviewing and updating risk assessments 64 per cent, measures to control other risks related to the crisis and the changes put in place to deal with it 64 per cent, training of workers 64 per cent, working time shifts to reduce onsite presence 63 per cent, and discontinuing non-essential travel 73 per cent. Other measures such as use of PPE is 82 per cent, monitoring and supervision 73 per cent, cleaning and ensuring hygiene 73 per cent, an procedures dealing with worker with symptoms or tested positive only 64 per cent. Non-G20 countries are far behind in implementing such measures.
ILO has called for stronger mechanism in every country to ensure compliance with national laws and regulations, including system inspection, to protect health and key workers to save life and economic resources to sustain it.
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