Are Workers Concerned About COVID-19 Exposure in the Workplace?

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The number of Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the United States is still disturbingly high. In fact, according to data from Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the United States currently has more COVID-19 cases than any other country in the world. As the COVID-19 vaccine becomes more widely available, the National Safety Council (NSC) is urging employers to support the vaccine to protect their employees.

In the meantime, workers who physically go to work every day have expressed concern about safety issues related to COVID-19 exposure in the workplace, including the risk of contracting the virus. Workers who contract COVID-19 because of poorly enforced safety protocols may be eligible for Workers’ Compensation benefits. Those workers affected by COVID-19 are urged to contact a Workers’ Compensation lawyer for assistance.

Study Highlights Concerns About Workplace Safety

According to a recent survey commissioned by compliance company Stericycle, close to 25 percent of workers said that their employers do not provide the appropriate training on COVID-19 safety guidelines. Researchers surveyed 1,000 employees who work for companies that have a minimum of 100 employees, and 450 employers from organizations that have at least 100 employees. The survey revealed the following results:

  • Close to 60 percent of business leaders, and 38 percent of workers, are concerned about contracting COVID-19 in the workplace.
  • Over 40 percent of employers said that they do not believe they can enforce COVID-19 safety guidelines.
  • Close to 45 percent of employees are concerned about coworkers not following safety protocols.
  • Nearly 80 percent of workers said they would seek employment elsewhere if their employer did not provide training on COVID-19 safety guidelines.
  • Thirty-four percent of workers said they would look for a new job if their employer did not provide the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), enforce social distancing, and other safety measures that demonstrated a commitment to employee safety.
  • Close to half of the business leaders surveyed said that they do not think that their current safety measures are proactive enough.
  • Over 25 percent of workers are required to provide their own PPE.
  • As the COVID-19 vaccine becomes increasingly more available, 24 percent of employees said they would not feel safe working in the vicinity of a coworker who was not vaccinated.
  • Close to half of the business leaders surveyed intend to offer a COVID-19 vaccine. The NSC urges all employers to develop a COVID-19 vaccination plan.

What are Employees’ Concerns About Contracting COVID-19 at Work?

According to the Stericycle survey, some workers are concerned that their employers are not taking the necessary steps to ensure that the work environment is safe and that employees are not following the recommended safety protocols. For example, results from the survey revealed the following:

  • Nearly 40 percent of employees expressed concern that employers are not testing all workers before allowing them to return to work.
  • Seventeen percent of workers said that their employers have not provided the necessary PPE.
  • Twenty percent of workers say that enhanced cleaning and sanitizing protocols are not being provided.
  • Thirty-seven percent of employers report that they do not provide adequate PPE and other safety efforts.
  • Interestingly, more than half of business leaders are worried that they will contract COVID-19 at work, whereas less than half of workers shared this concern.

When it comes to contracting the virus, employees shared that they were concerned that the following factors could increase their risk of exposure to COVID-19:

  • Over half of workers are concerned about the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, particularly in the area where they live and work.
  • More than 40 percent of workers worry about taking public transportation and the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
  • Approximately 30 percent of workers are worried about touching or coming in direct contact with objects or materials that have been touched by other employees who may have the virus.
  • Twenty percent of workers are concerned about being in small, enclosed spaces, such as elevators, with other employees.
  • Thirty-two percent of employees worry about sharing spaces with coworkers.
  • Close to 30 percent of employees are concerned that COVID-19 could be spread through air ducts and other ventilation systems in the workplace.

Employers have a responsibility to provide workers with the necessary PPE to do their jobs and to protect them from exposure to COVID-19. However, according to the survey, some employers distribute used PPE, which could crease the risk of infection in the workplace. In addition, fewer than half of business leaders provide designated disposal areas where used PPE can be discarded. Although 80 percent of employees dispose of PPE in the workplace, less than half of business leaders provide PPE disposal areas. As a result, 25 percent of workers dispose of used PPE at their desk.

Are Employers Providing the COVID-19 Vaccine?

The survey findings show that 48 percent of companies intend to offer the COVID-19 vaccine to employees, even though almost 25 percent of workers said that they would not feel comfortable working close to another worker who did not receive the vaccine. Businesses are strongly urged to invest in safety protocols that reduce the risk of infection and alleviate employees’ concerns about contracting the virus in the workplace. According to the NSC, widespread support for the COVID-19 vaccine is imperative, as it will keep workers safe and promote economic recovery.

The vaccine is currently being distributed to those who are at most risk, including the elderly, health care workers, and educators. Until the vaccine is more widely available, employers are urged to reinforce the proven safety precautions, including wearing a face mask, handwashing, social distancing, and working remotely when possible. According to the NSC, this is also the time for employers to develop comprehensive vaccine plans. Assistance from the federal government can help ensure that the private and public sectors of the business community have the guidance they need to roll out education and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to employees.

What can Employers Do to Protect Workers from Contracting COVID-19?

To provide a safe and healthy work environment for workers, employers must be vigilant about taking the necessary steps to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure in the workplace, including the following:

  • Identify potential workplace hazards by conducting a thorough hazard assessment, including areas where employees are more likely to have close contact with other workers, such as break rooms, cafeterias, meeting rooms, or waiting areas.
  • Include employees of all levels, from management to janitorial staff, to participate in communication plans.
  • Ensure that contract employees are notified about any changes to work processes or requirements related to preventing the spread of COVID-19.
  • Choose an employee who will act as an on-site workplace coordinator. This employee will be responsible for COVID-19 assessment and control.
  • Establish flexible sick leave and encourage workers to stay home without fear of reprisal.
  • Conduct daily health checks for all in-person employees. Set up screening stations where employees’ temperature can be taken, and other symptoms can be assessed. Make sure that workers practice social distancing while waiting in line.

Employers are urged to use the hierarchy of controls to prevent the spread of infection. A combination of the following controls may be used:

  • Engineer controls: The following steps can reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19:
    – Limit access to areas where employees are likely to congregate.
    – Use visual cues such as floor decals or tape to encourage social distancing.
    – Place sanitizing stations in multiple areas throughout the workplace, and make sure that bathrooms have plenty of hand soap and paper towels or hand dryers.
    – Check the ventilation system and make any repairs or improvements to ensure that the appropriate amount of fresh air and humidity is delivered.
  • Administrative controls:
    – Train workers about how COVID-19 is spread and the steps necessary to prevent it. Trainings should focus on wearing cloth face coverings, washing hands, cleaning high-touch surfaces, and refraining from sharing personal items.
    – Establish cohorts to reduce the number of people with whom workers are exposed.
    – Create policies that minimize travel and other face-to-face interactions.
  • PPE: This is the last step in the hierarchy, as it is more difficult to use effectively compared with other measures. To protect workers while also avoiding exposure to additional hazards, the use of PPE requires employers to characterize the environment, understand the hazard, provide training, and ensure that the PPE is used correctly and consistently. Surgical masks and N95 respirators are reserved for health care workers and first responders, but cloth masks, gloves, and other PPE should be used at all times.

Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Represent Workers Exposed to COVID-19

If you contracted COVID-19 at work, contact the experienced Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton today. Our dedicated legal team will walk you through the claims process, address all your questions and concerns, and ensure that you receive the maximum financial benefits to which you are entitled. 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.