COVID-19 highlights occupational risks in SDP sector
COVID-19 highlights occupational risks in SDP sector
On the World Day of Safety and Health at Work, we reflect on the ways in which workplaces in the SDP sector can become more secure for their workers.
Since 2003, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has been observing the World Day for Safety and Health at Work annually on 28 April. The theme for 2021 revolves around “anticipating, preparing and responding to crises,” against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the past year, the majority of workplaces in the sport for development and peace (SDP) sector have faced a number of occupational risks directly impacting all types of employees. These risks have been caused mainly by changes in work patterns and environments of organisations and their employees, including job insecurity, periods of under-employment and unemployment, as well as changes in the risk profile of frontline and field workers within the sector.
The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns turned traditional work patterns and implementation models throughout the SDP sector on its head. Working from home became the norm for most employees, including delivery staff such as facilitators and coaches, as offices closed and on-ground programmes came to a complete standstill. This was especially tough for field workers, who could not engage with participants physically and in many cases had to pivot to deliver programmes digitally.
The change in circumstances negatively impacted the mental health of employees, including increasing their stress and anxiety. The SDP sector needs to identify the key stressors and determinants impacting the mental health of workers, ensuring that adequate training is provided to assist with prevention but at the same time appropriate systems and response mechanisms are in place to deal with mental health issues at the workplace. Moreover, organisations within the sector need to involve their employees to see how best to ensure flexibility in working through such crises.
Further, with most work within the sector moving online, consideration must be given to and adequate training provided for the new skills required by delivery personnel to create and implement online programming. Many field trainers do not have specific technological capacities, and organisations must ensure that they are trained appropriately and continually. In addition, their feedback must be taken into consideration while planning and designing such programmes – without their input, trainings can be redundant and ineffective.
A major occupational risk across industries due to COVID-19 has been of job insecurity and redundancies. The SDP sector has seen a sharp decline in incomes in 2020-21, with two-thirds of organisations reporting reductions in income. This has meant that many organisations within the sector have had to let go of employees or significantly reduce the time of paid work offered. Though there has been an immediate impact on the mental health and financial security of individual employees and their families, what long-term impact will this have on the performance of the sector?
Frontline and field workers part of the SDP sector are key personnel within organisations ensuring the success of interventions, including coaches, facilitators and trainers. As an immediate response to COVID-19, many organisations initiated relief work within communities, and it was these frontline and field workers that risked their health in order to reach out to individuals and their families. Moreover, as on-ground programmes slowly begin to restart, it is once again these frontline and field workers who will be going into communities and risking their health in order to continue the important work of SDP organisations.
It is therefore critical that the SDP sector and individual organisations ensure that these frontline and field workers are given priority to get vaccinated. This means advocating and negotiating with governments on the need for frontline workers within the SDP sector be prioritised for the vaccine. Moreover, organisations within the sector must revisit all safety protocols and update the same in light of changing on-ground circumstances to ensure frontline and field workers are provided adequate support as and when on-ground programming resumes. Finally, from a long-term perspective, frontline and field workers must be provided adequate job security and health cover, as these jobs are usually contracted on part-time, fixed-hours and flexible basis, hence making them most vulnerable to any shocks within the organisational and institutional systems.
Future actionable steps
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted some key occupational risks that the SDP sector must recognise and deal with appropriately moving forward. The sector must ensure that they focus on the mental health of their employees and provide flexibility in working through difficult times. Moreover, employees must be provided adequate and appropriate training in online capacities and other capabilities that may arise in the future. The sector must also focus on its frontline and field workers to ensure they are provided adequate job security and safety along with access to appropriate health services, with an immediate focus on getting them vaccinated as on-ground programming slowly resumes.
In order to better recognise various occupational risks within the SDP sector, evidence must be collected directly from employees of diverse organisations within the sector. Such research must be carried out from the perspective of employees, rather than organisations and their leadership, as they can provide appropriate ways to deal with such risks in order to better prepare workplaces within the sector for the future.