Coronavirus infection that first occurred in Wuhan, China and had a wide impact on the world in a short time, was declared as “Covid-19 pandemic” (epidemic that made people panic) by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020. The world of Occupational Health and Safety is profoundly affected by the pandemic. In most of the countries, the effects of the virus are trying to get minimized through measures such as isolations, school closures, travel prohibitions, quarantines, work from home practices and lockdown for citizens.
COVID-19 pandemic gave rise to health disaster as well as slowdown of workplace activities throughout the world led to global economic deprivation. Widespread workplace closures due to the lockdown have resulted in significant loss of labour income through higher levels of inactivity and unemployment.
This unforeseen “Covid- 19 pandemic” caused both positive and negative effects, on both morbidity and fatality. Many of them have emerged during the period of the rapid spread of the virus and strict isolation measures whereas negative impacts are much more and last longing than positive ones.
Devastating Impact Of Covid-19 Pandemic On OHS
- Job Security
COVID-19 pandemic has led to health crisis as well as lagging down of industrial practices. Continuous shut down during the lockdown period, workplaces have been forced to cut down their disbursement and workers in industries are at a greater risk of laying off their jobs. The fear of losing the job, pay cuts and reduced benefits made many workers worry for their future. Job insecurity, economic loss and unemployment have a severe impact on mental health especially on the health of vulnerable, disadvantaged groups, lowest-paid employees, migrant workers and those working in the informal economy.
The “COVID-19 pandemic” crisis, lockdown and economic recessions might intensify existing health issues. Lower socioeconomic workers have less access to protective equipment, fewer options to work from home and a higher risk of losing their job.
The impact across the global economy has been profound. The resulting economic recession has dramatically increased the global rate of unemployment. Many businesses have closed as a result of lockdowns and there is the possibility that they may not reopen. Many organisations have to change work practices according to the new requirements to protect workers, clients and customers from contagion.
- Workplace Environment And Equipment
During the “COVID-19 pandemic”, emergency response workers have to work under pressure, for longer hours and incessant shifts, with intense workloads and reduced rest periods. Evidence shows that heavy workload is related to increased absenteeism. Other workers, such as those involved in the production of essentials, in delivery and transportation, security and safety also have to face similar situations.
In contrast, other groups of workers, including g those working from home, experience either work overload or under load.
A lousy psychosocial working environment has a considerable impact on workplace productivity, increased absenteeism or presenteesm, lower job engagement and reduced job. The combination of stress and fatigue reduces the efficiency of work and increases the possibility of human error, risk of work injuries and accidents.
The elongated use of heavy PPE for prevention from contagion creates fatigue, exhaustion and dehydration through increased sweating, and causes claustrophobia. In addition, sometimes PPE causes physical and psychological distance with co-workers and patients, creating feelings of isolation.
The definition of a work accident was reinterpreted broadly in context of infection /contagion.
“Since the Coronavirus, which is described as a pandemic disease, can be transmitted to the worker due to the work being carried out by the employer, as well as the possibility of being transmitted in another environment. If it is identified that the employee is infected due to the work carried out by the employer, the incident can be evaluated within the scope of the work accident and the employer can be held responsible.”
The main responsibility of the management is to keep balance between production, profit and safety at workplace as well as to keep employees motivated and free from the stressful environment due to pandemic.
During the pandemic, employers are facing difficult challenges on multiple fronts at once: to self, family, workers, customers, suppliers and business partners, governmental and financial systems.
Lack of workforces has increased workload on available workers along with fear of insecurity due to pandemic. Under these circumstances everything is in perpetual threat: the spread of the contagion, the rules and regulations, the market challenges, the temporary changes to labour law, and the changed OSH recommendations. Employers and managers find themselves under strong pressure and stress. At the same time they have to play a critical role in protecting their workers from the stress and psychological pressure generated by the pandemic.
Communication, Information And Training
The comprehensive media coverage of the “Covid-19 epidemic” is requisite to promote precautionary measures, but it also influences the psychological response to the disease threat, worries and anxiety.
A lot of fake news and misguiding information, prejudices about the COVID-19 crisis is noxious to worker’s mental health and well-being. Fake news leads to confusion over the following of adequate preventive measures and encourage people to behave that may endanger their health.
- Work-Life Balance
During the pandemic, people working from home may also face many risks related to the home setting, which often does not meet the same OSH standards as those recommended for official worksites. They may face ergonomic risks as the workstation, the desk, chair and other accessories, may not be of an equal quality to that in the office
Inappropriate equipments and setting lead to increased mental disorders such as agitation and stress while working. Musculoskeletal disorders, burnout, coronary heart disease due to the wrong ergonomic set up lead to anxiety and low passivity.
While working from home, monotonous work under load, under-stimulating also increase work-related stress and have negative effects on health and on job satisfaction.
On the other hand, during the “COVID-19 pandemic”, many workers are not only burdened with high work demands, but also have to adjust their family life and look after their dependents.
- Health Problems Related To Work
If not appropriately assessed and managed, increased stress and anxiety leads to physical and mental / psychological health issues.
Psychological problems: low spirit, down morale, exhaustion, anxiety, depression, burnout and suicidal tendency.
There are changes in behaviours, ability to relax or level of irritability. Such changes result in to increased use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs as a way of coping.
Also a range of physical reactions occur, such as digestive problems, changes to appetite and weight, dermatological reactions, fatigue, cardio-vascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, headaches or other unexplained aches and pains.
Violence And Harassment
Violence and harassment have consequences on both physical and mental health and temperament. Increased stress level leads to frustration and anger, and thus violence and harassment at work. Both physical and psychological Violence and harassment rise during the infection outbreaks with increase in social stigma and discrimination.
The increased mortality rate associated with uncertainty about symptoms, the unavailability of screening and tests and the absence of vaccines and treatments, lead to acts of violence and harassment against staff at workplace, healthcare professionals and others who directly care for patients and their families.
Cyber bullying also increase with the large number of people, working from home and using information and communication technologies. As distancing and confinement increase the stress level, the risk of domestic violence, is eventually increase.
- Social Support
Social support is a very important factor in dealing with stress, reducing the noxious effects of pandemic on health outcomes and also on job satisfaction. Sources of social support are colleagues, coworkers, supervisors, managers, family members and friends.
Social support includes practical help and co-operation, encouragement, appreciation, comfort, emotional support, providing information to help in problem-solving, advice and so on.
The measures such as lockdown, physical distancing and working from home adopted to fight the “COVID-19 pandemic” are making social interaction more difficult. Feeling isolated and lonely is being a risk for all workers, especially when it is for a prolonged period.
Healthcare and emergency workers may have to choose to isolate themselves from loved ones to protect them from the risk of infection. Watching patients who they have lovingly treated die in large numbers is an additional psychosocial risk factor that will need specific support to health workers.
- Recommendations For Safe Working Practice
For the protection of the mental as well as physical health of workers, working practices should be integrated with workplace occupational safety and health management systems (OSH-MS). Emergency preparedness and response plans and return to work plans developed to respond to the crisis.
Workplace hazard identification and risk assessment should be carried out before any modification or implementation of new work practices, materials, procedures or machinery. The process should cover all the different hazards and risks arising from the work environment and organization. It must be complied with national laws and regulations, and reflect good practice considering the current situation of pandemic.
In case the employer violates Occupational Health and Safety regulations against the Coronavirus obligations, his criminal and legal responsibilities will arise. In addition, if it is determined that the employee is caught with Coronavirus epidemic due to the work being carried out by the employer, this situation will be accepted as a work accident.
A Few Positive Impacts Of “Covid-19 Pandemic” On OHS
The positive impacts of pandemic are only a pinch of relief compared to its devastating effects.
People have less money to spend on smoking and alcohol, fast food or other unhealthy behaviours. When social distancing becomes the norm bars, restaurants and nightclubs are closed, and there is more time to exercise and sleep.
The air quality also improves through lower emission gases. Water quality improves as low exhaustion of industrial wastage. Level of noise pollution also reduced.
There will also be lower exposure of workers to toxic materials. Fewer people work in industries or have to travel which reduces the number of deadly accidents at work and in traffic.
Now that many countries are implementing ‘exit strategies’ from the containment measures, however, there is a second wave of potential health consequences threatening us. According to economists, a long lasting worldwide economic recession is to be expected.
We can mitigate negative consequences. International collaboration will be necessary to support low-income and lower-middle-income countries in which a large proportion of the citizens are poor and unemployed and for which the impact will be bigger. OHS institutes and agencies should advocate supportive measures and develop guidelines for effective prevention, provide data, concrete plans and solutions for stakeholders and policymakers, using their expertise on how to create healthy, fulfilling and attractive jobs.
Be ready to fight a biological war against Covid -19