HEALTH & SAFETY LESSONS LEARNED IN THE WORLD OF WORK
The annual World Day for Safety and Health at Work on 28 April promotes the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases globally.
Since emerging as a global crisis in early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has had profound impacts everywhere. The pandemic has touched nearly every aspect of the world of work, from the risk of transmission of the virus in workplaces, to occupational safety and health (OSH) risks that have emerged as a result of measures to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Shifts to new forms of working arrangements, such as the widespread reliance on teleworking, have, for example, presented many opportunities for workers but also posed potential OSH risks, including psychosocial risks and violence in particular. The COVID-19 pandemic has led employers and workers to face unprecedented challenges in relation to health safety at workplaces. While, the second wave of pandemic has led to closure of offices in many states, the companies are gearing up to strengthen occupational safety and health (OSH) systems.
EMERGING RISKS AT WORK
New and emerging occupational risks may be caused by technical innovation or by social or organizational change, such as:
- New technologies and production processes, e.g. nanotechnology, biotechnology
- New working conditions, e.g. higher workloads, work intensification from downsizing, poor conditions associated with migration for work, jobs in the informal economy
- Emerging forms of employment, e.g. self-employment, outsourcing, temporary contracts
They may be more widely recognized through better scientific understanding, e.g. the effects of ergonomic risks on musculoskeletal disorders. They may also be influenced by changes in perceptions about the importance of certain risk factors, e.g. the effects of psychosocial factors on work-related stress.
TOWARDS A HEALTHIER FUTURE OF WORK
The ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work called for fundamental changes in the way we work in the new wave of globalization, rapid technological development, demographic transition and climate change.
The 24/7 digital economy, long working hours, high demand and rapid change with low personal control can be devastating for physical and mental health and wellbeing. However, new frontier technologies and new ways of working provide solutions for classic occupational health problems, for example, by using robots for hazardous work, or artificial intelligence for monotonous, annoying tasks.
Most workers in informal and precarious employment, gig economy, care economy, migrant and domestic workers don’t have regulatory protection of their health and safety at work, occupational health services, and social security. The future of work should close and not widen, the gaps between those who have full labour rights, health and safety services, regulatory and social protection and those who do not.
By combining health and safety at work with environmental protection, by linking human and environmental capital, we can contribute to a brighter future of work, a sustainable economy and a healthier planet, said Maria Neira (WHO) – Director, Public health and environment, World Health Organization.
The current system of regulations, services and practice of occupational health and safety is a product of 20th century forms of work and organization of the economy – standard employment in big enterprises with social protection and regulatory control. This system is not anymore suitable for the new forms of work and work organization – it needs to evolve to ensure no one is left behind.
WORKPLACE SAFETY IN TIMES OF COVID
The surge in covid-19 cases triggered real estate industry to quickly rush into the action mode and ensured that they took necessary precautionary measures.
CREDAI’s President National Harsh Vardhan Patodia announced free vaccination for 2.5 crore construction work force. Through this vaccination drive, CREDAI aims at accelerating Government’s mission of free vaccination to the needy population at the earliest and further help in restraining the spread of Coronavirus. The vaccines will be provided in strict accordance with all the Government-approved protocols.
Dr. Niranjan Hiranandani, National President, NAREDCO said, “Amid resurgence of Covid second wave, the real estate and construction sector is well prepared to tackle the situation of looking after in situ-migrants labourers at their respective site. Complying with the state governments SOPs, developers are also being responsible to facilitate food, shelter, and healthcare safety gears for the migrant labourers and their families. Additionally, vaccination drive is expedited and regular Covid testing is followed to mitigate the risk. Simultaneously, Industry body NAREDCO has also recommended to permit vaccination for labourers above age 21 to ensure their safety as most of the labourers fall in this age category. In situations like mini lockdowns, where business continuity is coping with alternatives and following best healthcare practices.”
Ashok Mohanani, president, NAREDCO Maharashtra said, “We are working closely with all the NAREDCO members and following all the necessary Government guidelines. In fact, all our members have been doing this much before from the time Covid-19 crisis disrupted the real estate sector last year. Labourers are the most vital and the integral part of the real estate industry and taking utmost care of them is our paramount responsibility. We are ensuring that regular sanitization of the construction sites are done and proper accommodation is provided to the labourers at the sites. We are also conducting regular health check-ups and vaccination awareness programs for the workers. We have made the RT-PCR test mandatory for all the migrant workers who are coming back from their hometown as per the Government guidelines. We are ensuring that they complete their tests before joining the construction sites.
MCHI-CREDAI is getting the health check-ups done for the labourers along with the vaccination awareness program. It will comply with the government guidelines and get the RT PCR test done for most of the labourers. For project sites in the outskirts of the city, it is planning to tie-up with private organizations to conduct tests.”
Pritam Chivukula, Hon. Secretary, CREDAI MCHI added, “The Government has mentioned that the labourers need to get vaccinated at the earliest and till their vaccination they need to get their RT PCR test done. Large and medium-sized developers are already taking the necessary precautions at the sites. Although this will affect the small developers and also the redevelopment projects as they do not have enough space for labour camps.”
Many real estate firms are going the extra mile to get their employees vaccinated. Embassy REIT has opened COVID Vaccine Centres with BBMP at Embassy Manyata Business Park and Embassy TechVillage. Embassy REIT is in discussions with the health authorities for the implementation of the vaccination programme for employees of the over 100 occupiers across all the Embassy REIT business parks in Bengaluru. The CVC comprises a waiting lounge, registration by BBMP officials both in hard copy and as well CO-WIN portal, vaccination room, duty doctor and an ambulance in case of emergencies.
315Work Avenue, a coworking space provider is initiated covering the Covid-19 vaccination cost for all of its clients and their team members working out of 315Work Avenue workspaces. As a preventive measure during the pandemic and maintaining a workplace free of Covid-19 hazards, this initiative is in sync with the country-wide phased vaccination drive undertaken by the government and will cover close to 20,000 people including the existing and upcoming clients.
Lodha Group, too is covering the Covid-19 vaccination cost for all its associates as also extending the service to their dependents (including spouse & parents), and third party resources who have been associated with the Group since the Covid-19 outbreak in the country.
Livspace, the home interiors and renovation platform too plans to cover the costs of COVID-19 vaccination for its 10,000+ employees and freelance partners along with their families. Livspace through this initiative will cover the 100% cost of the vaccination through either cashless benefits or reimbursements.
WeWork India, apart from covering 100 % cost of COVID 19 vaccination for all its 300+ active employees as well as three of their dependents including parents and parents-in-law has launched Corona Kavach Group policy for its employees, including five dependents – Spouse, two children and two dependent parents-in-law. This policy covers hospitalisation expenses, home-care treatment during a 14-day quarantine period, no limit on ICU hospitalisation and five lakhs sum amount insured per family.
Workplaces can be of vital importance to prevent and control outbreaks. Adequate safety and health measures at work can play a crucial role in containing the spread of the disease, while protecting workers and society at large. Governments, employers and workers all have a role to play in tackling COVID-19 crisis, and their collaboration is key.
EMPLOYEES WANT HYBRID WORK SOLUTION
As per a study by Paperspace- a collective of design strategists in Asia into office space design, employees want hybrid working solutions and safety protocols to return to offices. There is a significant change in the sentiments of the workforce and return to office has become one of the key focus points for both individuals as well as businesses.
The survey report called ‘Back To Office’ by Paperspaces showed that 63% of respondents in India felt that going back to the office is critical. The study conducted with over 610 employees and employers, highlights the importance of a collaborative work environment and the need for businesses to adopt hybrid solutions. Hybrid solutions allow employees to come to the office occasionally and complete the rest of the task by working remotely
While many offices are in a process of putting together strategies and policies to bring their employees back to work, the report showed that a substantial 44% of respondents had already started going to the office. About 68% of respondents felt returning to offices will lead to an increase in their productivity.
Indian corporates are looking for hybrid solutions that not only help bring their employees back to offices but also optimise real estate costs. As companies start to divest their real estate portfolios, the future is about a distributed workforce and flexible office spaces.