Keep health workers safe to keep patients safe | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 20, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:05 AM, September 20, 2020

Keep health workers safe to keep patients safe

A charter released recently for World Patient Safety Day, calls on governments and those running health services at local levels to take five actions to better protect health workers.

While health workers represent less than 2-3% of the population in the large majority of countries, around 14% of COVID-19 cases reported to WHO are among health workers. In some countries, the proportion can be as high as 35%.

In addition to physical risks, the pandemic has placed extraordinary levels of psychological stress on health workers exposed to high-demand settings for long hours, living in constant fear of disease exposure while separated from family and facing social stigmatisation.

On World Patient Safety Day, the World Health Organisation (WHO)'s health worker charter  calls on all Member States and relevant stakeholders to take steps to:

Establish synergies between health worker safety and patient safety policies and strategies:

• Develop linkages between occupational health and safety, patient safety, quality improvement, and infection prevention and control programmes.

• Include health and safety skills in personal and patient safety into education and training programmes for health workers at all levels.

• Integrate staff safety and patient safety incident reporting and learning systems.

• Develop integrated metrics of patient safety, health worker safety and quality of care indicators, and integrate with health information system. 

Develop and implement national programmes for occupational health and safety of health workers:

• Develop and implement national programmes for occupational health for health workers in line with national occupational health and safety policies.

• Review and upgrade, where necessary, national regulations and laws for occupational health and safety to ensure that all health workers have regulatory protection of their health and safety at work.

Protect health workers from violence in the workplace

• Adopt and implement in accordance with national law, relevant policies and mechanisms to prevent and eliminate violence in the health sector.

• Promote a culture of zero tolerance to violence against health workers.

• Review labour laws and other legislation, and where appropriate the introduction of specific legislation, to prevent violence against health workers.

• Ensure that policies and regulations are implemented effectively to prevent violence and protect health workers.

Improve mental health and psychological well-being

• Establish policies to ensure appropriate and fair duration of deployments, working hours, rest break and minimising the administrative burden on health workers.

• Define and maintain appropriate safe staffing levels within health care facilities.

• Establish a 'blame-free' and just working culture through open communication and including legal and administrative protection from punitive action on reporting adverse safety events.

• Provide access to mental well-being and social support services for health workers, including advice on work-life balance and risk assessment and mitigation.

Protect health workers from physical and biological hazards

• Ensure the implementation of minimum patient safety, infection prevention and control, and occupational safety standards in all health care facilities across the health system.

• Ensure availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) at all times, as relevant to the roles and tasks performed, in adequate quantity and appropriate fit and of acceptable quality.

• Ensure adequate environmental services such as water, sanitation and hygiene, disinfection and adequate ventilation at all health care facilities.

• Ensure vaccination of all health workers at risk against all vaccine-preventable infections, including Hepatitis B and seasonal influenza, following the national immunisation policy, and in the context of emergency response, priority access for health workers to newly licensed and available vaccines.

• Provide adequate resources to prevent health workers from injuries, and harmful exposure to chemicals and radiations; provide functioning and ergonomically designed equipment and workstations to minimise musculoskeletal injuries and falls.

Please visit to learn more about the health worker safety charter.

Source: World Health Organisation (WHO)


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