Occupational health

Guidelines for human resources planning in environmental and occupational health

By Merri Weinger
© 1998 World Health Organization

Executive summary

Human resources development in environmental and occupational health has been a priority of WHO for many years. Specific initiatives in human resources development have included education and training programmes for government officials on topics such as drinking water supply and sanitation technologies, hazardous waste management, environmental epidemiology and chemical safety, as well as the development of educational materials and reference texts. With the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, came a new orientation towards national planning aimed at guaranteeing the necessary capacity to identify, manage and prevent environmental problems and to promote sustainable development.

In this context, WHO began to focus on more comprehensive approaches to capacitybuilding, which could include the development of institutional infrastructure, a legal framework, enforcement mechanisms and the necessary human resources. Examples of such approaches are a project to help countries incorporate initiatives on health and the environment into their development planning, the production of national profiles on the sound management of chemicals, and the promotion of national planning for human resources development in environmental and occupational health. The latter approach is the subject of this document.

This document describes a methodology for planning of human resources development in environmental and occupational health which was field-tested in Cuba, Mexico and South Africa between 1994 and 1996. In addition to outlining the rationale for such planning and the recommended steps in the planning process, the country case studies are discussed in detail with a focus on the ingredients for successful implementation in future.

Chapter 1 highlights the incentives for developing a national human resources development plan which includes the documentation of existing personnel and training opportunities, and creation of a mechanism for producing and maintaining the necessary skills and expertise for environmental and occupational health management. Human resources development plans also provide a framework for funding proposals to support national capacity-building. Environmental and occupational human resources development are linked since the same general knowledge and expertise are required to assess and control hazards in both environments. The training of personnel and the services they ultimately provide must be coordinated in order to ensure that problems are not simply transferred from the workplace to the general environment and vice versa.

Chapter 2 defines human resources development planning as an approach to determine how best to produce, deploy and use human resources in the right numbers, with the right skills, attitudes and motivation and at the right cost to perform environmental/occupational health functions. It provides a brief introduction to different strategies for workforce planning, or for defining the number and type of personnel needed, on the basis of their functions, required knowledge and competencies, or job category. Details on how to implement each of these strategies can be found in the annotated references.

Chapter 3 describes the steps in human resources planning which may in some Guidelines on human resources planning 2 countries be combined or carried out in a different order, depending on national or subnational needs and priorities. Although there is no standard formula, most approaches include: identifying partners in health, environment, labour, education and other sectors who have a stake in human resources development in environmental and occupational health; establishing a working group to guide the planning process; assessing existing human resources development resources, services and unmet needs; holding national forums or workshops on the issue; preparing a draft plan; reviewing, ratifying and implementing the plan; and ongoing monitoring and evaluation. Highlights of this chapter include guidelines on what to include in a country review and training institution survey.

Chapters 4 and 5 focus on country experiences in implementing the human resources development planning process and on the lessons learned. Sample interview and survey formats developed by the project countries are included in the appendices. Problems common to all project countries included a fragmented legislative framework, inadequate training programmes (in terms of content, methodology, access, preparation of teachers, etc.) lack of intersectoral cooperation and insufficient planning.

While the planning process was advanced in all countries, some of the important lessons learned are summarized below.

Human resources development planning:

  • is time-consuming, not a "one-shot deal", and, therefore, must be integrated into ongoing development planning;
  • requires a clear mandate for multisectoral involvement from high-level government authorities;
  • requires the participation of high-level decision-makers from all sectors involved in the planning process;
  • requires training in human resources development planning for those leading and participating in the planning process;
  • requires a review of human resources development which is adequately funded and documents the number, type, job profile and distribution of personnel and training institutions;
  • should result in a prioritized list of concrete activities, a proposed timeline and a budget which can be used in drafting funding proposals;
  • should provide an institutionalized mechanism for human resources development planning and clear opportunities for ongoing intersectoral participation.

The guidelines, country experiences and references cited provide guidance to countries interested in initiating a national planning process for human resources development in environmental and occupational health. The process could be further advanced by additional training for key sectors (health, environment, labour) in planning and in the development and sharing of specific planning tools for environment and health (e.g. survey instruments, job descriptions, alternative organizational structures, competencies for key professional.