The COVID-19 pandemic brought occupational safety and health (OSH) and social security systems to the top of the agenda for policy-makers around the world. That was a key theme of the two-day special session on COVID-19 and OSH, organized by the World Congress on Safety and Health at Work and held virtually on October 5-6, 2020.
The online event, drawing thousands of participants from over 150 countries, was hosted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Safety and Security Association (ISSA), as well as by the national co-hosts of next September’s XXII World Congress: the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) and the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).
The Special Session began with a welcome by the Presidents of the Canadian host organizations, Dr. Cameron Mustard, President of IWH and Ms. Anne Tennier, President of CCOHS.
In his opening remarks, ILO Director-General Mr. Guy Ryder spoke of the COVID-19 crisis as one that calls for concerted action to ensure that worker safety and health are front and centre of pandemic responses, and for social security systems to be strengthened so that workers don't have to choose between life and livelihood.
Dr. Joachim Breuer, ISSA President, spoke of the more than 1,000 social security measures that have been developed or expanded in 200 countries since the start of the pandemic, as mapped by ISSA’s COVID-19 Monitor, and noted the gap between the developed and developing world in their ability to provide such responses.
The Honourable Filomena Tassi, Canadian Minister of Labour warmly welcomed all participants, and spoke of measures to strengthen income support to workers and businesses, and of information-sharing across levels of government to develop guidance for workplaces on worker protection.
Moderated by Ms. Vera Paquete-Perdigão, Director of Governance and Tripartism Department at the ILO, this panel looked at global innovations in addressing COVID-19. The panelists looked at innovations taking place around the world in response to the pandemic and spoke of unprecedented cooperation and knowledge sharing across borders. The panelists also spoke of the contribution of information technology in enabling not only that information exchange, but also the shift towards remote work and worker training in COVID-prevention measures. It also spoke of the need for innovation to reach the worker populations currently not protected by regulatory measures—i.e. informal, precarious and migrant workers.
Moderated by Mr. Rakesh Patry, Director General of International and Intergovernmental Labour Affairs, Employment and Social Development Canada, this panel of global voices spoke to how COVID-19 has laid bare the vulnerabilities of informal, temporary and gig workers, according to an international panel addressing the changing world of work and COVID-19. According to the panelists, the laying bare of these vulnerabilities, and some of the successful programs implemented to date to address them, represent an opportunity to build healthier, safer and more decent work in the post-COVID world.
In a panel exploring the role of the culture of prevention in responding to the COVID-19 emergency, the speakers offered a variety of industry-specific examples of how a culture of prevention has aided in the approach to COVID-19 preparation and safety measures implemented in workplaces across the globe. The panelists emphasized the importance of the workplace parties working together to create safe and healthy workplaces in the extraordinary circumstance of the global pandemic. Workplaces and sectors with strong cultures of prevention were able to draw on the assets of trust and teamwork among the workplace parties, the strengths of a learning culture and the discipline of strong occupational health and safety management programs to adapt rapidly to the challenges that COVID-19 posed to the protection of the health of workers.
In a panel exploring resilient and sustainable workplaces in light of COVID-19 moderated by Mr. Joaquim Pintado Nunes, Chief, Labour Administration, Labour Inspection and Occupational Safety and Health Branch at the ILO, panelists underscored the need to address gaps in social security systems to enable economic recovery. They also highlighted the value of a tripartite approach—involving employer, labour and government partners—in responding to the challenge of ensuring business continuity without sacrificing OSH.
A breakout session moderated by Mr. Bernd Treichel, Senior Technical Specialist in Prevention at ISSA focused on Vision Zero in Motion. Panelists announced two important developments. First was the launch of a training accreditation program (in partnership with the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health) that includes a train-the-trainer course. The new train-the-trainers course will give them an opportunity to receive accreditation by IOSH. Second was Vision Zero’s new Proactive Leading Indicators guide —a set of freely available leading indicators for safety, health and well-being at work. Both of these developments will allow for the sustainable growth of the Vision Zero concept in the COVID and post-COVID world.
As part of the World, the Global Forum for Work Injury Insurance was organized by ISSA and hosted by the Social Insurance Fund of the Russian Federation. In his introductory remarks, ISSA Secretary General Marcelo Abi-Ramia Caetano stressed that “COVID-19 has pushed society into new work patterns, such as teleworking, into new life-styles and into social distancing.” The Russian State Secretary and Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Protection, Andrey Pudov, focused on the need for timely measures to face this new reality. Stefan Hussy from the German Social Accident Insurance and Chair of the ISSA Technical Commission on Insurance Against Employment Accidents and Occupational Disease stressed the need to innovate and evolve the world of work, and to work together to develop an eco-system of safe and healthy workplaces. “As our economies change, we need to change, but we don’t need to do it alone,” he said.
The International Media Festival for Prevention Short List Announcement session was an opportunity to present the 50 best contributions to the competition. Led by Martina Hesse-Spötter, Chair of the ISSA Special Commission on Prevention, excellent multimedia contributions from around the world were presented along with interviews with some of the creators. The IMFP is an integral part of the World Congress and highlights that successful prevention work can be advanced through outstanding creative multimedia initiatives. The winners will be presented at the XXII World Congress for Safety and Health at Work in Toronto, Canada, in September 2021.
This session, organized by the ILO, featured two roundtable discussions on the topic of preparing for decent work through safety and health in the new normal. The first roundtable, moderated by Ms. Martha Newton, Deputy Director-General for Policy at the ILO and featuring global ILO perspectives and the view of social partners, looked at the ILO’s experience of an integrated policy approach for safe work in a COVID-19 and recovery period. The second roundtable discussion focused on multidisciplinary and multilateral action for common problems: the case of the Global Coalition for Safety and Health at Work. With remarks from Mr. Joaquim Pintado Nunes, Chief, Labour Administration, Labour Inspection and Occupational Safety and Health branch at the ILO, the roundtable featured speakers representing the Global Coalition task group on OSH and the future of work, the Global coalition task group on promotion of Sustainable Development Goals work and productive employment through higher education, the task group on vision zero at enterprise level, the task group on multiregional OSH data systems and the International Commission on Occupational Health.