ILO issues guidance for safe return to work amid COVID-19 pandemic

Return to work policies should be informed by a human-centred approach that puts rights and international labour standards at the heart of economic, social and environmental strategies and ensure that policy guidance is embedded in national occupational safety and health systems, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), has said.
 
ILO said the two guidance documents for creating safe and effective return-to-work conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic noted that social dialogue – bringing together governments, workers’ and employers’ organisations – will be critical in creating the effective policies and trust needed for a safe return to work.
 
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.
 
The guidelines insisted that 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.

It added: “For workers staying at home, the risk of infection in a work context can be eliminated; for all workers returning to workplaces, priority should be given to options that substitute hazardous situations for less hazardous ones, such as organising virtual instead of physical meetings. When this is not possible a mix of engineering and organisational control measures will usually be required to prevent contagion. 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.

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