As the new coronavirus or COVID-19 continues to affect people and their places of work across the nation and around the world, one would think workers in essential industries are being effectively protected. Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily the case for everyone. While many workplaces are doing their due diligence to ensure workers are adequately protected during the pandemic, others haven’t been as cautious. Now, records obtained by The Washington Post show several complaints have been made to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Organization (OSHA) regarding exposure to COVID-19 and a lack of safeguards at work.
The Washington Post reviewed thousands of workplace complaints made across the country regarding safety concerns amid the ongoing pandemic. The complaints provided a look into the fear experienced by many required to work at essential jobs, while others can stay safely at home. These complaints come from many different industries, including healthcare, air transportation, construction, call centers, grocery stores, beauty spas, pharmacies, and shipping companies, among others.
As expected, the largest group of shared complaints comes from healthcare workers, some of which describe being given plastic ponchos and masks made out of paper towels. While workers in some medical facilities report a lack of hand sanitizer or soap, pharmacists and technicians have been forced to work in close proximity without protective gear.
Despite requests from different unions as well as members of Congress, OSHA has yet to issue specific COVID-19 workplace safety standards to protect essential workers. This void leaves employers without formal federal guidance with which to come up with their own internal protocols, the result of which has been a slew of differing safety measures with varying results.
COVID-19 and the Texas Workplace
While overarching safety protocols by OSHA have yet to be seen during COVID-19, the Texas Department of Insurance has issued several guidelines in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These recommendations include social distancing, proper hand washing, and the use of physical barriers to control virus spread, among others.
Employees interacting with potentially infected people, such as those working in healthcare, laboratories, or airline operations, have much higher exposure risks. Although standard national safety protocols remain elusive, OSHA has provided some guidelines for employers dealing with COVID-19 in higher risk environments, including:
- Requiring employers to provide each worker a place of employment free from recognized hazards that may cause death or serious physical harm.
- Requiring employers to conduct a hazard assessment in order to determine when employees should use gloves, eye and face protection, respiratory protection, and any other necessary personal protective equipment or PPE.
- Requiring employers to refer to the comprehensive safety program outlined in the Respiratory Protection standards if respirators are needed to protect workers.
- Requiring employers to refer to OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens standard for occupational exposure to human blood and other potentially infectious material; however this but does not typically include respiratory secretions that may transmit COVID-19.
Houston Employment Attorneys
The safety of employees should be of the utmost importance for employers, now more than ever. Unfortunately, safety goals are not always met and negligent employers should be held accountable for the resulting harm. At Feldman and Feldman, our team can handle whatever employment issues you are facing. We support employees by giving them a powerful voice to advocate for fair working conditions; and, we also help employers defend themselves against unjust accusations. If you are facing an employment issue, contact us today for more information on how we can help you.