How are Transit Workers Staying Safe During the COVID-19 Pandemic?October 5, 2020
When it comes to essential workers, the first employees that people tend to think of are health care workers, emergency responders, social workers, and infection control professionals. However, people often forget that transit workers such as bus operators, train conductors, and transit maintenance workers are on the front lines every day, making sure that buses, trains, and subways are functioning properly, and that commuters are able to get to work.
Unfortunately, this means that transit workers are at an increased risk of being exposed to COVID-19, either by close contact with passengers and coworkers or by touching surfaces that are frequently touched by other people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a set of fact sheets that offer a range of safety tips that can help transit workers and other essential employees stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What Should Employers Do to Protect Transit Workers from Exposure?
COVID-19 is a potentially serious respiratory disease that is spread from person to person after close contact with an infected individual. Social distancing and regular hand washing can reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19. However, certain populations, including older adults and individuals who have an underlying condition or a compromised immune system, are at an increased risk for the virus. Depending on the time of day and the number of commuters on the bus or train, transit workers may be in close contact with the passengers, making it difficult to maintain social distancing.
In addition, when the majority of passengers are touching handrails, seats, tickets, and doors, the more likely it is that those surfaces could spread the virus. The CDC encourages employers to take proactive steps to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure. In addition to providing the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), the employers are urged to create a COVID-19 workplace health and safety plan, which should include the following steps:
- Choose an employee to act as an on-site workplace coordinator. This person will be responsible for COVID-19 assessment and control. Responsibilities include the following:
- Involve all staff members when developing safety plans, including utility workers, janitorial staff, supervisors, and bus and train operators.
- Make sure that the safety plan gives direction on how to communicate to passengers entering the bus or train about modifications to work or changes to service processes.
- Provide employees with the workplace coordinator’s contact information, and make sure that they direct all COVID-19 concerns to that individual.
- Develop and implement flexible sick leave for transit workers.
- Sick leave and other supportive practices will encourage workers to stay home if they feel sick without having to worry about being penalized or losing their job. The coordinator is responsible for making sure that workers are aware of these policies.
- Plans should also be developed to communicate with contracting companies about changes to work processes if contractors are employed in the workplace.
- Considering scheduling in-person or virtual health checks, which can include temperature screenings and checking symptoms.
- Employees can self-screen at home before going to work or be screened in person at work by having their temperature taken and symptoms evaluated before starting work.
- Employees who are waiting for an on-site screening should follow social distancing rules and remain at least six feet away from others waiting in line.
- Employee screenings must be conducted in private. The employee’s medical status and health history is confidential and should not be shared with other workers.
What Should Employers Do If a Transit Worker Tests Positive for COVID-19?
If an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, the employer should take the following steps:
- Employees who work with the individual who tested positive for COVID-19 should be separated from the other workers and self-isolate for the required amount of time. In addition, all workers who have been in contact with the employee who has COVID-19 should contact their health care professional as soon as possible.
– Any work areas where the sick employee worked for a prolonged period of time should be closed off to other workers until the area has been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected by a professional cleaning crew. The cleaning staff should make sure that the office space, bathroom, common areas, shared electronic equipment, and any frequently touched surfaces are clean.
– Notify the employee that they may not return to work until they have met the self-isolation requirements and has approval from a health care provider to go back to work.
How can the Hierarchy of Controls Prevent the Spread of Infection Among Transit Workers?
The hierarchy of controls is an effective way to identify and implement effective control solutions in the workplace. Employers can use the hierarchy of controls to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by using a combination of the following controls:
- Engineering controls: Using engineering controls, employers can the following modifications to the workspace to prevent the spread of COVID-19:
- Put distance between passengers and transit operators by moving the electronic payment terminal further from the transit operator.
- Install plastic barriers, strip curtains, or other physical barriers between passengers and transit operators.
- Limit the number of employees allowed in break rooms, entrance, and exit areas at one time.
- In narrow or confined space, such as inside a bus or train, allow foot traffic to go only in a single direction and enforce the six-foot social distancing rule.
- Use decals, colored tape, or signs to remind workers and passengers to practice social distancing.
- Hand sanitizer should be available throughout the bus, train, or subway for both workers and passengers.
- The bus or train should be well ventilated, and the humidity should be maintained at 40 to 60 percent. In poorly ventilated areas, high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration units can remove contaminants from the air.
- Administrative controls: Proper training and modifying the way people work can prevent the spread of COVID-19.
- Employers should ensure that all workers have a basic knowledge of COVID-19, including how the disease is spread, the common symptoms, and the steps that can be taken to minimize the risk of transmission.
- Workers should be trained on the importance of social distancing, wearing a face mask, hand washing, how to property clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces, and ensuring that workers do not share tools and equipment unless it is absolutely necessary, and the equipment is thoroughly cleaned first.
- Institute a cashless policy so workers can avoid touching cash that has been handled by multiple customers. If this is not possible, ensure that transit operators change gloves or use hand sanitizers between passengers.
- Personal protective equipment (PPE): This is more difficult to use effectively compared with engineering controls and administrative controls because it requires a characterization of the environment and understanding of the hazard, training, and consistency. When addressing occupational hazards such as COVID-19, emphasis is given to engineering and administrative controls. Health care responders and medical first responders are given priority when it comes to PPEs such as surgical masks and N95 respirators.
What Should I Do If I am Exposed to COVID-19 at Work?
If an employee was exposed to COVID-19 at work and was diagnosed with the virus, he or she may be eligible to collect Workers’ Compensation benefits. This is unchartered territory in Workers’ Compensation, and it is important for workers to realize that not every case will require that a claim be filed, and not every claim will meet the legal standard of a covered case. For the worker to have a successful claim, the employee must be able to prove that the illness arises out of and in the course of employment. The employee will need to provide detailed information about how he or she was exposed to the virus, including the date of exposure, the location, and any other information about how the virus was contracted.
An experienced Workers’ Compensation lawyer will work closely with the employee to assist with the claims process and ensure that the worker is reimbursed for lost wages, medical expenses, and any other costs associated with the illness. If the employee dies of complications associated with the COVID-19 virus, a Workers’ Compensation lawyer can help surviving family members pursue a death claim to seek financial compensation for funeral expenses, medical expenses, loss of income, and other expenses.
Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Advocate for Workers During the Pandemic
If you contracted COVID-19 after being exposed to the virus at work, contact the Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton as soon as possible. Our skilled legal team will closely review the details of your case and determine whether your employer took the necessary safety precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, including enforcing social distancing and ensuring that high-touch surfaces are cleaned and disinfected. We will help you navigate the claims process and ensure that you receive the full financial benefits you deserve. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 844-556-4LAW (4529) or contact us online. Located in Baltimore, we serve clients throughout Maryland.