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Managing Work-related Psychosocial Risks during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Managing Work-related Psychosocial Risks during the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Another online seminar has been held by the project team ‘Regulatory framework to prevent remote work-related psychosocial risks’ of the HSE University Faculty of Law. On October 15, Lacye Groening, ILO Technical Officer on Occupational Safety and Health spoke about on how to manage work-related psychosocial risks during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond from a global perspective.

The ILO Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work adopted in June 2019 declared that safe and healthy working conditions are fundamental to decent work. People working from home are exposed to specific psychosocial risks, and if not appropriately assessed and managed, psychosocial risks may increase stress levels and lead to physical and mental health problems. Of great interest here is the global view of the issue.

Lacye Groening,  ILO Technical Officer on Occupational Safety and Health

During the pandemic, the ILO implemented mandatory teleworking for staff at headquarters. I worked for over a year and a half remotely from home, only recently returning to the office 50% of the time. During this time, I was acutely aware of the many potential OSH risks that workers face, such as social isolation and other psychosocial risks. As the situation evolves, it is important to continue to research and gather evidence to inform good, effective OSH policies to reduce psychosocial risks. 

Typical Hazards

The research paper Managing work-related psychosocial risks during the COVID-19 pandemic explores the different types of risks that workers have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, ranging from the specific risks to healthcare workers and frontline staff, to the risks faced by those teleworking.

For those teleworking, many workers faced ergonomic risks due to inadequate equipment, impacts on work-life balance, violence and harassment (including cyberbullying and domestic violence) and risks related to workload, work-pace and work schedule. Within the different areas of potential risk, the report outlines typical hazards and provides checklists of suggested actions at the enterprise level. 

Workers in a variety of sectors and geographical locations were impacted by the rapid transition to widespread teleworking in response to the pandemic. In particular, workers in areas with poor access to high-speed internet faced challenges connecting, which can lead to stress and other impacts.

For workers living with poor ventilation, heating or cooling systems in the home, especially those in climates with very hot or cold weather, they may face additional OSH risks. In this year’s World Day for Safety and Health at Work report, it explores many risks faced by workers (including teleworking related risks) and discusses policy measures taken by governments and employers to address these risks. 

Ways to lower stress 

Workers can work toward minimizing stress during remote work by following healthy routines. This can include eating healthy, nutritious meals and taking regular, short breaks to stretch and engage in light exercise.

Workers can stay connected socially to colleagues through virtual coffee breaks and video calls. Employers can support workers and create a safe and healthy remote work environment through good communication and ensuring that workers know who to reach out to for support, if needed. 

ILO publications

Ms. Groening recommends reading two recent World Day for Safety and Health at Work reports prepared by the International Labour Organization for 2020 and 2021, respectively:

The following two publications address specifically psychosocial risks:

In addition, there is the recent Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019 (No. 190), which is available on ILO website.