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

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COVID-19 pandemic has led governments, employers, and workers to face unprecedented challenges in relation to the virus and the many effects it has had on the world of work.

The United Nations marks the World Day for Safety and Health at Work on 28 April of every year, and the International Labour Organization (ILO) first observed this World Day in 2003. 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).

This year on the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, the ILO released the report “Anticipate, prepare and respond to crises – Invest Now in Resilient Occupational Safety and Health Systems”. The report will focus on strategies to strengthen national occupational safety and health (OSH) systems to build resilience, in order to face crises now and in the future, drawing on lessons learned and experiences from the world of work. It outlines the critical roles played during the pandemic by occupational safety and health regulatory frameworks and institutions, compliance mechanisms, health and advisory services, data, research and training. The report also examines how the current crisis demonstrates the importance of strengthening these OSH systems, including occupational health services, at both the national and undertaking level.

According to the report, one in five health care workers around the world have reported depression and anxiety symptoms during the pandemic and 14% of all Covid-19 infections occurred among healthcare workers. As such, the ILO values the effort, sacrifices and resilience of frontline workers in Kuwait, especially emergency and health care workers who face higher occupational and safety risks.

Hideko Hadjialic, United Nations Resident Coordinator ad. interim said: “On this day, and on behalf of the United Nations Country Team, I take this opportunity to congratulate the government and people of Kuwait on the consistent and exemplary planning and implementation of nationwide measures for over a year now, to prevent and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 as well as phased approach of gradual reopening taking epidemiological analyses and potential economic impacts into account. The preventive measures were regularly monitored and updated by government entities, the private sector, educational institutions, but most importantly the health sector and front-line workers. These were and still are in very difficult times. All of us are affected by this change but we all are in this together. Like any other country, COVID-19 has brought us a range of concerns, such as fear of falling ill and dying, of being socially excluded, placed in quarantine, or losing a job or a loved one. The GSSCPD/UNDP joint sample survey of 680 respondents revealed that 42 percent of females and 37.8 percent of males are under psychological distress, and about 20 percent of female and 13.6 percent of male respondents are experiencing severe depression. As such, mental health and psychosocial support is an important element as part of longer-term recovery plans in general.”

The ILO also notes the relentless work undertaken by its social partners in the country that focus on raising awareness among all employers and workers, especially migrant workers. ILO’s social partners launched various information campaigns in traditional and social media in targeting migrant workers in their own languages with guidelines on how to protect against COVID-19.

In the past few years, the ILO has, in collaboration with Kuwait government, conducted a comprehensive assessment of the labour inspection system and OSH services and, based on the assessment’s results, provided recommendations for reforms that are in line with  relevant International Labour Standards. It also conducted many capacity-building programmes for the Public Authority for Manpower officials and Social Partners, on modern labour inspection procedures, national OSH policy and programme, OSH management systems and OSH inspection in specific sectors. In addition, the ILO produced a number of flash videos, posters and infographics on occupational safety and health, targeting workers, including migrant workers in five different languages.

Dr. Assad Hafez, WHO Representative in the State of Kuwait said that the covid-19 pandemic has exposed an occupational health crisis in workplaces worldwide. WHO in collaboration with partners has been in the forefront to advocate and ensure safe working environment for all and with specific focus on health workers who have suffered the most. Covid safe policies, free access to personal protective equipment, mental health services and protection from victimization for raising health & safety concerns is the right of all workers. The pandemic demonstrates why health and safety must be a right for everyone. WHO will continue to work with Ministry of Health, UN partners and all stakeholders to improve and strengthen OSH systems in Kuwait.

On this occasion, the ILO and the WHO will participate in an event by Kuwait University’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health in the Faculty of Public Health. Both UN agencies will share the best practices in OSH in regard to Covid-19 and discuss relevant international OSH and Hygiene conventions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on nearly every aspect of the world of work – from the immediate threat of acquiring the virus to widespread job losses in key sectors, the closure of businesses, restrictions on mobility and air travel, lockdowns, school closures and impacts on global supply chains. These rapid changes in response to the pandemic have resulted in high levels of unemployment, a loss in working hours and business closures, and precarious employment for many workers.

Informal workers and enterprises have been particularly vulnerable during the crisis to occupational safety and health (OSH) risks as they lack sufficient protections.

Investing in the strengthening of OSH systems will not only help governments, employers and workers to respond to the current pandemic, safeguard health at the workplace and recover faster by avoiding further contagion, building up these resilient systems will also provide a foundation to respond to other unforeseen events and crises that may occur in the future, says the report.