Centre plans to set up occupational surveillance system for covid-19

livemint | May 26, 2021

The move is in line with the recommendation of the World Health Organization report titled Preventing and Mitigating Covid-19 at Work Policy

The Centre is planning to set up an occupational surveillance system for monitoring the impact of covid considering that professionals, including healthcare workers, are vulnerable to the virus.

The Directorate General of Factory Advisory Services and Labour Institutes (DGFASLI), which comes under the ministry of labour and employment, has constituted an academic committee to study the impact of covid-19 on professionals.

The move is in line with the recommendation of the World Health Organization report titled Preventing and Mitigating Covid-19 at Work Policy. According to the WHO document, an occupational surveillance system for covid-19 enables public health officials and employers to evaluate the efficacy of workplace interventions and is critical to understanding the true impact of the pandemic on professions.

The major occupational diseases and morbidity in India are silicosis, musculoskeletal injuries, coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, chronic obstructive lung diseases, asbestosis, byssinosis, pesticide poisoning and noise-induced hearing loss. DGFASLI serves as a technical arm of the ministry and assists in formulating national policies on occupational safety and health for factories and docks. It also advises factories on the problems concerning safety, health, efficiency and well-being of every employee.

The panel had recently convened a meeting with specialists to identify the burden and impact of the disease among various occupations ranging from hospital staff to sanitation workers, factory workers, pharma company employees and hospitality staff.

“As several respiratory illnesses are a part of the occupational diseases list in India, covid-19, too, qualifies to be a part of it. So far, we have only seen that surveillance of covid-19 has been done largely on healthcare workers who obviously directly deal with the disease,” said Dr T.K. Joshi, member of the DGFASLI committee on covid.

Joshi, a former director-occupational environment and medical programme, Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, is also a consultant to the Union health ministry and a member of the central pollution control board.

“Covid-19 is also common in pharmacies, airports, among people handling waste from hospitals and pharmaceutical factories, workers in hospitality industry as for last two years many hospital chains were involved in treatment of covid patients. We aim to understand the impact of covid-19 on these occupations also,” said Joshi.

The WHO recommended policy action calls for establishing an occupational health surveillance system for covid. It said that such a system will help countries understand which worker populations are at risk and activities most associated with contracting covid-19.

The global public health agency said local public health agencies involved in contact tracing should be supported by occupational health services and help practitioners determine work-related hazards. It also said that information must be collected during interviews of positive cases for determining risks in contracting covid.