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Safety and health issues affecting healthcare workers worldwide — Occupational health and safety

Safety and health issues affecting health workers around the world

The World Health Organization provides examples of successful practices to keep these workers safe.

Healthcare workers are routinely exposed to more illnesses than workers in most other occupations. Sure, these workers take precautions, like using PPE, but that doesn’t completely eliminate the risks.

In November, the World Health Organization (WHO) released highlights on the occupational health of healthcare workers. These results include data on physical illnesses that healthcare workers face as a result of their work.

WHO reported that TB affects a large proportion of health workers in “low- and middle-income countries”. Fifty-four percent of these workers have latent tuberculosis (LT). Although dormant, LT can lead to TB disease, but not in most cases, the CDC reports. Another health issue affecting health workers, especially clinical nurses working in Africa, is chronic lower back pain. The WHO noted that 44 to 83 percent of these workers experience this type of pain.

Physical health is not the only professional concern of health workers. Their mental health is also impacted. This has been especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic. Around the world at that time, nearly one in four (23%) frontline healthcare workers suffered from depression and anxiety. The WHO also noted that “medical professions are at higher risk of suicide in all regions of the world”.

WHO data shows that although there are 195 members in the organization, only just over 13 percent (26 in total) have “policy instruments and a national program in place”.[m]s” to keep these workers safe, and only 33% of all countries have measures like these. So what can people and countries do to protect the health and well-being of these essential workers?

History has shown that there are successful ‘policy interventions’ that relate to ‘regulations, standards and codes of practice’, elements of health care management, ‘mechanisms’ and ‘capacities’, coverage of services and “working conditions”, according to the WHO. For example, two of the actions include “creating mechanisms and building capacity for occupational health and safety management in the health sector at national, subnational and facility levels” and “establishing collaboration with employers’ and health workers’ organizations to improve working conditions.” See the detailed list of political actions here.

Earlier this year, WHO and the International Labor Organization released a 124-page downloadable guide to programs that can be used at different levels, including national and facility-specific, to protect worker safety. health. The document can be consulted and downloaded at The WHO website.

About the Author

Alex Saurman is the Occupational Health and Safety Content Editor.

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