• Monday, Jun 01, 2020
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ILO issues guidelines for safe return to work amid Covid-19

  • Published at 06:32 pm May 23rd, 2020
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Photo: SYED ZAKIR HOSSAIN

Special attention will be needed to ensure that return to work policies do not create discrimination related to gender, health status, or other factors

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has issued two guidance documents for creating safe and effective return-to-work conditions during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The “Guidance Note” says that return to work policies need to be formed by a human-centred approach that puts people’s rights at the heart of economic, social and environmental policies, reports BSS.

Social dialogue – bringing together governments, workers’ and employers’ organizations – will be critical in creating effective policies and trust needed for a safe return to work, according to an ILO webpost.

The note draws on specialist ILO guidance documents and International Labour Standards, which provide a normative framework for creating a safe return to work.

The document stresses that policy guidance should be embedded into national Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) systems, as these create the basis for safe workplace environments.

The guidance can therefore contribute to a culture of continuous, country-level improvement, in administration, institutions, laws and regulations, labour inspections, information gathering, and other areas.

Workers must feel safe at their workplaces, both from risks directly related to Covid-19, and indirect risks, including psychosocial issues and ergonomic risks related to working in awkward positions or with poor facilities when working from home, the guidelines say.

They should have the right to remove themselves from any situation “which they have reasonable justification to believe presents an imminent and serious danger to their life or health,” and “shall be protected from any undue consequences.”

The document proposes that each specific work setting, job or group of jobs should be assessed before returning to work and that preventive measures should be implemented to ensure the safety and health of all workers according to a hierarchy of controls.

Necessary measures

The specific measures to implement are specific to each workplace, but may consist of installing physical barriers such as clear plastic sneeze guards, improving ventilation, or adopting flexible working hours, in addition to cleaning and hygiene practices.

The guidelines also recall that the use of appropriate personal protective equipment may be required to complement other measures, in particular for the most hazardous occupations, and that this equipment should be provided for free to workers.

The needs of workers at higher risk of severe illness should be taken into account; including older workers, pregnant workers, those with pre-existing medical conditions, refugees, migrants and those in the informal sector.

Special attention will be needed to ensure that return to work policies do not create discrimination related to gender, health status, or other factors.

“Unsafe work practices anywhere are a threat to both health and sustainable business, everywhere. So, before returning to work, workers must be confident that they will not be exposed to undue risks,” said Deborah Greenfield, ILO’s deputy director-general for Policy.

“And, to help enterprises and economies get going as soon as possible, workers will need to cooperate with these new measures. This means that social dialogue will be particularly important because it is the most effective way to feed information and views into policies and actions, creating the best chance for a swift and balanced recovery,” Greenfield added.

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