UN develops modules to provide safe work environment to health workers

Experts say high rate of infectious viral disease, back injuries, sharps injuries reported among health workers across the world and that it is leading to attrition

By Jitendra
Published: Friday 01 August 2014


Two United Nations agencies—the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO)—have collaborated to develop a module to provide for the well-being of health workers.

The module—HealthWISE (work improvement in health services)—has been evolved in the backdrop of high infection rate of  Hepatitis B and C, back injuries and sharp injuries reported among the health workers. It creates worries among health workers and is leading attrition.

The module states that health sector workplaces are complex environment which can at times be dangerous and unsafe, leading to high attrition rate of the health workforce.

The module, explained in two volumes, is for improvement of health sector workplaces through participatory approach of management and staff. It was released on July 30.

HealthWISE is based on the ILO WISE methodology (Work Improvement in Small Enterprises), which has been successfully applied for more than 20 years in 45 countries and adapted to several economic sectors.

The aim of this module is to provide health-care institutions with a practical, participatory and cost-effective tool to improve working conditions. It will provide safety, enhancing performance of health workers and prevent them from occupational health hazard.

The module states that improvements have to be a sustained and participatory effort.

“Decent working conditions in this sector must take into account workers’ health and their well-being, as the quality of care provided by health workers is partly dependent on the quality of their work environment.....Improvements are introduced and sustained by the combined efforts of management and staff, brought together in a dedicated team,” states report.

In a press release,  Christiane Wiskow, ILO’s health services sector specialist says: “Unsafe working conditions are still common in many workplaces in the health sector and may often even affect the quality of health services provided. Thus, it is essential to ensure that decent working conditions are provided to health workers. This includes taking into account their health and well-being.”

Susan Wilburn, WHO expert on occupational and environmental health adds, “Health workers are exposed to health risks due to the nature of their work.”

“Lifting or moving of patients, for example, contributes to the high rates of back injuries commonly found among health professionals. Worldwide, an estimated three million incidents of sharps injuries happen every year, causing more than one-third of Hepatitis B and C infections among health workers. Health workers may worry about their exposure to health hazards, including HIV and TB, at their workplace, if proper protection is not provided,” she further adds.

Pilot experiences
Pilot projects applying HealthWISE have already been implemented, for example, in Senegal, where the new approach led to better information and practices on working conditions and sensitization of health workers in hospitals about HIV. Health workers benefited from training sessions to increase their knowledge of HIV infection and of safer work practices. 

HealthWISE promotes an integrated approach for improving safety of injections and handling of sharps.

“An integrated approach means introducing a protocol that combines all the different aspects of work improvement, such as behaviours, education, equipment, policies and procedures,” explains Alice Ouedraogo, chief of the ILO’s HIV and the World of Work Branch.

“It ensures not only the availability of improved equipment and facilities, such as clearly labelled and puncture-proof sharps disposal boxes, but also enhanced workplace prevention and support policies and programmes to protect health workers from occupational exposure to hazardous agents, for example TB, or HIV.” 

What the module is all about
The module approach method is of learning by doing. There is “Action Manual” and a “Trainers Guide” for controlling occupational hazards and improving safety at work place like controlling infection and biological hazards, tackling discrimination and harassment and violence at work place.

The Action Manual helps initiate and sustain changes for improvement and is designed to promote learning-by-doing. The Action Manual is accompanied by a Trainers’ Guide that contains guidance and tools for a training course.

HealthWISE contributes to improving health services’ performance and ability to deliver quality care to patients, by paying attention to a supportive and enabling work environment. It does so by promoting the application of smart, simple and low-cost solutions, and by utilising local resources, which leads to tangible benefits to workers and to health services.


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