Countries need to put in place sound and resilient occupational safety and health (OSH) systems that would minimise the risks for everyone in the world of work in the event of future health emergencies, says the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in a report, released on World Day for Safety and Health at Work.

This will require investment in OSH infrastructure and integrating it into overall national crisis emergency preparedness and response plans, so that workers' safety and health is protected, and the business continuity of enterprises is supported.

The report, 'Anticipate, prepare and respond to crises: Invest now in resilient OSH systems', examines risk prevention and management relating to the pandemic, and analyses other health and safety risks associated with the changing work arrangements arising from virus control measures.

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.

"There could be no clearer demonstration of the importance of a strong, resilient, occupational safety and health environment. Recovery and prevention will require better national policies, institutional and regulatory frameworks, properly integrated into crisis response frameworks," ILO Director-General Guy Ryder has been quoted as saying in a media release accompanying the report.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, workers in specific sectors, such as emergency, health and social care, have been particularly vulnerable to the risk of infection.

According to data cited in the report, 7,000 health workers have died since the outbreak of the crisis, while 136 million health and social care workers are at risk of contracting COVID-19 through work.

The pressures and risks facing health workers during the pandemic have also taken a toll on their mental health: One in five healthcare workers globally have reported depression and anxiety symptoms.

As well as the health and care sectors, many other workplaces have been sources of COVID-19 outbreaks, when staff are in closed environments or spend time in close proximity with each other, including in shared accommodation or transport.

In analysing the health concerns arising from the dramatic increase in tele-working during the pandemic, the report says that while tele-working has been essential in limiting the spread of the virus, maintaining jobs and business continuity and giving workers increased flexibility, it has also blurred the lines between work and private life.

Sixty-five per cent of enterprises surveyed by the ILO and the G20 OSH Network reported that worker morale has been difficult to sustain while tele-working

A version of this article appears in the print on April 28, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.