Insecure workers at risk of further pandemic harms, OH professionals say

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Occupational health professionals believe that those in insecure jobs are the most at risk of further disadvantage from the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to research conducted among 165 OH professionals who are members of the International Commission for Occupational Health, those in precarious employment (cited by 79% of respondents), informal work (69%) and the unemployed (63%) are the most at risk of further disadvantage.

Those with a disability or long-term health condition (61%) and older workers (56%) were also felt to be at risk of further harm.

Asked what could be done to improve outcomes for these groups, the majority felt that their governments could provide short-term support, such as financial and social support.

There were also calls for more fundamental reviews of the underlying inequalities that leave populations vulnerable to a crisis such as Covid-19.

Although the study is based on subjective data, the authors say OH as a profession is well placed to have informed and cogent opinions on which groups of workers might be or become more adversely affected by the pandemic, due to their role in assessing and monitoring the health of workers and aiding the return to work.

The study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, says: “Occupational health professionals are well placed to promote the importance of equity in future strategies and policies in the changing world of work. Indeed, in relation to vulnerable workers, it has been argued that OH professionals have a key role and a moral duty to encourage policies that improve social justice and reduce inequalities.

“We also hope that by highlighting the plight of workers in insecure work during this pandemic, this paper will encourage future research, maybe around the systemic inequalities that lead to this situation. Fairer societies will likely be more resilient to future global crises.”

The research was conducted by academics at the Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Manchester; Lagos State University, Nigeria; Binawan University, Indonesia; Maynooth University, Ireland; National Institute for Occupational Health, South Africa; and the Global Centre for Nutrition and Health Cambridge.

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