The government has prioritised Occupational Safety and Health provisions by including them under the fundamental rights and duties of the constitution. It ensures that everyone enjoys the right to live with dignity anywhere in the nation, which incorporates the inherent rights of the workers as including the right to live with dignity at their workplaces
Nepal is already experiencing one of the highest COVID-19 reproduction rates as the second wave has hit the country. The government has put stringent measures in place by closing educational institutions, and by issuing prohibitory orders in the COV- ID-19 hotspots. Its profound impacts are visible in all domains, including in the world of work, which underscore the significance of Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) for all of us.
Workplaces can easily become contaminated with the novel coronavirus, exposing workers, their families and communities to the risk of infection. In addition to the risk of infection, workers in all sectors face additional hazards that have emerged due to new work practices and procedures adopted to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Teleworking, for example, has led to ergonomic and psychosocial risks, with some 65 per cent of surveyed enterprises reporting that worker morale has been difficult to sustain while working from home.
Certain workplaces have been particularly affected, such as the 136 million health and social workers at serious risk of acquiring COVID-19 during the course of their work. Moreover, those workers as well as essential staff in many other sectors have faced increased workloads, longer working hours and reduced rest periods. The risk of violence and harassment at work has also risen, with consequences for both physical and mental well-being. The protection of workers against sickness, disease and injury related to their work environment has been a central issue for the ILO since 1919. From the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, the principles contained in ILO Occupational Safety and Health standards have shown to be more relevant than ever, especially the principle of prevention.
Faced with an unprecedented public health emergency, governments have taken rapid measures to curb the spread of the virus through public health systems.
Actors in the world of work, and particularly in the field of OSH, have been crucial in the emergency response for protecting workers including those who support public health systems.
At the same time, special attention is needed to ensure that policies and strategies do not discriminate against any workers, and consider those in vulnerable situations including the young, women, disabled and migrant workers, the self-employed and the informal economy. In Nepal, the government is considering the adoption of the ILO's Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155). It is being discussed in the parliamentary committee on Labour and International Relations. Convention No. 155 calls for the adoption of a coherent national occupational safety and health policy, as well as action to be taken by governments and within enterprises to promote occupational safety and health to improve working conditions.
Ratification of Convention No. 155 will help define the responsibilities of governments and employers and the rights of workers regarding Occupational Safety and Health.
The government has prioritised Occupational Safety and Health provisions by including them under the fundamental rights and duties of the constitution. It ensures that everyone enjoys the right to live with dignity anywhere in the nation, which incorporates the inherent rights of the workers as including the right to live with dignity at their workplaces.
The constitution also addresses the right to freedom and to form unions and associations, and freedom to practice any profession, carry on any occupation and establish and operate any industry, trade, and business in any part of Nepal. The constitution looks upon labour with the greatest respect and any act of its disrespect is considered contrary to public decency or morality.
Similarly, the Labour Act 2017 of Nepal provides directives on the areas of OSH and its intervention in Nepal. The Act has incorporated the insurance provisions of workers and has also set medical treatment provisions for every worker in case of workplace injuries.
The other OSH-related provisions include the preparation of Safety and Health Policy applicable to each workplace with the inclusion of safety preparedness plan, worker's health, machine operation, use of hazardous substances, and such policy should be registered with the respective Labour Office.
The key elements of a national OSH system are set out in ILO's Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006. They comprise national OSH policy, regulatory and institutional frameworks; occupational health services; information, advisory services and training; data collection and research; and mechanisms for strengthening OSH management systems at the enterprise level to prevent and respond to OSH risks. Investing in these systems enables countries to better face and recover from crises by safeguarding lives and livelihoods, and advancing the protection of workers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has furthermore demonstrated the importance of social dialogue between governments, employers' and workers' organisations not only in responding to crises but also in promoting good OSH conditions. A climate of trust, built through social dialogue, is essential for the effective implementation of measures to address emergencies such as COVID-19, which require quick but effective action. Strengthened respect for, and reliance upon, mechanisms for social dialogue create a strong foundation for building resilience and encouraging commitment from employers and workers to the necessary policy and practical measures.
COVID-19 has undoubtedly been one of the gravest Occupational Safety and Health challenges the world has ever faced.
Through the concerted action and commitment of all stakeholders let us together forge the strong and effective national OSH systems we need to safeguard the life and health of every worker for years to come.
Howard is Director, ILO Country Office for Nepal
A version of this article appears in the print on April 29, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.