Occupational health

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Moving towards a Healthy Workplace: working together to Improve the health of PAHO personnel

Joanna Gaitens and Melissa McDiarmid University of Maryland; Paulo Teixeira, Health, Safety, and Well-being Committee, PAHO

In order to take care of others, you must first take care of yourself. Although many of us have heard this phrase at one point of our lives, for workers, especially those in the healthcare sector, this idea is sometimes overshadowed by the ever increasing demands of the job.

In August of 2008, the Pan American Health Organization announced its commitment to promoting health and safe working environments for all of its personnel. As part of this commitment, PAHO established a Health, Safety and Well-being Committee to identify health, safety, and well-being issues within the work environment and make recommendations for improvement.

In March 2009, during its infancy, the Committee held a three-day workshop to better define the Committee’s role and develop a comprehensive health, safety and well-being plan of action. Members of PAHO with assistance from several Collaborating Centers, including the Industrial Accident Prevention Association (IAPA) in Canada, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the University of Maryland, planned and facilitated the workshop. Over 30 representatives from PAHO and the collaborating centers participated.

During this three-day interactive workshop, topics of discussion included:

• An overview of occupational hazards typically found in office environments and international health organizations.
• Methods for identifying hazards and strategies to mitigate them.
• Occupational health and safety concerns identified by PAHO personnel and concerns from various country perspectives.
• Current PAHO policies related to health and well-being.
• Essential elements of an occupational health and safety program.
• Examples of successful health, safety, and well-being committees.

As a result of the workshop, occupational health and safety concerns of PAHO personnel, such as issues related to travel medicine and vaccinations, ergonomics, and work-related stress, were identified and the role and function of PAHO’s Health, Safety, and Well-being Committee was more clearly defined. Following the workshop, PAHO has moved forward in efforts to address many of the issues identified. For example, YouTube videos, such as “Healthy Workplace” and “Are You Ready for your Next Trip?”, and a Well-Being website on PAHO’s intranet have been developed to educate PAHO personnel about risks related to travel, resources offered by PAHO’s Well-Being Unit, and PAHO’s dedication to providing a healthy workplace.

In addition, the workshop highlighted the need for an institutional policy to govern the health, safety, and well-being of PAHO personnel. Subsequently, the Committee reviewed existing WHO recommendations, International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions, and other international standards to develop an institutional policy for PAHO. This policy was officially approved by PAHO on December 6, 2011 and will be launched by the Director the December 16, 2011.

Members of PAHO and Collaborating Centers will continue to work together when opportunities arise as implementation of the policy moves forward and the PAHO Health, Safety, and Wellbeing Committee continues to evolve over time.

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