Occupational risk prevention services are a relatively recent institution, and still little recognized by the Spanish public opinion. However, since 1997 all companies must have a prevention service in one of their different modalities that technically helps them to assume their responsibilities, of the company, in protecting the health of their workers. The principle of all European regulations, which is behind the Spanish regulations, is that the act of working should not put the health of the person who works at risk.
In this sense, preventing SARS-CoV-2 infection in the company of a worker, and the subsequent illness that occurs in some cases of COVID-19, is also a responsibility of the company. Obviously, a person can be infected at home, in the cinema or the subway, but it can also be infected in the office or in the workshop. It is, therefore, a public health problem, but also an occupational health problem. Assuming it by occupational risk prevention services is an obligation, as well as an opportunity to demonstrate its usefulness to society as a whole.
Also based on this principle is the fact that, at the beginning of the pandemic, when the first state of alarm was declared, COVID-19 was recognized as an accident at work, for the purposes of economic benefits managed by the INSS and the mutual collaborators, although The health service logically continued to be provided by the national health system, given the volume of working people who became infected and fell ill. Moreover, the fact of protecting workers who were close contacts by recognizing a work incapacity while they were quarantined – that is, without the disease – is also based on this principle of the right to health protection; which, in addition, constituted a preventive measure of the first order to break the chain of contagion in the companies and in the community. Judgments favorable to the recognition of COVID-19 in health workers are beginning to occur, since the causal relationship is evident, since the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has been recognized as a biological risk during work. Something that is claimed for other occupations and economic activities. Read, for example, cashiers in a supermarket. Time to time. In short, it is about putting all the care and preventive resources available, whether in the health system or in companies, at the service of a common goal: to control the pandemic. That’s where we are, because unfortunately we can’t finish it. These days we are seeing what is happening in Shanghai (China) or in Philadelphia (USA), to mention two cities where the number of cases have increased to worrying levels.
The professionals of the prevention services, whether they are ergonomists, hygienists, health professionals or psychosociologists, have numerous preventive measures to carry out their tasks successfully, and whose effectiveness has been scientifically proven. A recent paper published in the journal British Medical Journal reviewed the most reliable scientific evidence from different observational and intervention studies, concluding that masks reduce the incidence of COVID-19 by at least 50%, as does physical distance, not social, and by 25% the hand washing. But in addition, the prevention services have other resources to reduce the risk, such as the ventilation of closed spaces, along with organizational measures, as important as reducing the number of people per square meter in an interior space. Which can be alternated, combining teleworking with face-to-face work. All of these measures must be adopted after a rigorous risk assessment in each specific company and workplace. A huge task, given the diversity of jobs that can exist in each of the more than 3.3 million active companies registered in Spain. Of which around 95% have less than 10 working people.
Despite all the complexity it is possible to do it. A recently published study shows that, between the first wave and the second in 2020, when there were still no vaccines, at Hospital de Mar (Barcelona) preventive measures (masks, gloves, distance, effective protocols for handling infected patients, quarantine , teleworking, etc…) managed to reduce the incidence of COVID-19 cases (positive PCR) by 50% among the more than 4,500 workers. It does not reach the protection of some vaccines (85-90%), but it is not negligible.
In short, both at the beginning and now, hopefully in the final phase, occupational risk prevention services have a fundamental role in controlling the pandemic, collaborating on the front line with the other public health services and labor inspections. Occupational risk prevention services have the floor.