Occupational safety and health in public health emergencies: A manual for protecting health workers and responders

This manual provides an overview of the main OSH risks faced by emergency responders during disease outbreaks and other emergencies, such as natural disasters, chemical incidents, radiological emergencies and emergencies involving conflicts.

During the last five decades, the world has witnessed a wide range of natural and manmade disasters and emergencies. These emergencies included outbreaks of infectious diseases – such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), H1N1 influenza, Ebola virus disease, cholera, Zika virus – that occurred from time to time in different parts of the world. Apart from infectious disease outbreaks, other key emergencies included radiation emergencies (e.g. Chernobyl, Fukushima), and chemical emergencies (e.g. the Bhopal toxic gas leak, Deepwater Horizon oil spill). In addition, a large number of natural disasters have occurred across the world, such as the Indian Ocean tsunami, and earthquakes, floods and cyclones in Haiti, Pakistan and Philippines.

In view of all these events, the need for better occupational safety and health protection for emergency workers is increasingly being recognized as a major priority.

The intent is to assist organizations and workplaces to better prepare and respond to these events. The manual, which is particularly focused on needs in low-resource settings, provides technical guidance on good practices and procedures in establishing systems that can: 1) reduce occupational exposures, injury, illness and death among response workers; 2) decrease stress and reduce fears; and 3) promote the health and well-being of health-care and other response workers.