The “re-opening” of the American economy while the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is still circulating puts workers at heightened risk of contracting the deadly virus. In some blue-collar industries, the risk is particularly acute because of the inherent nature of the work itself and of the workplaces in which it is conducted. And the risk, for a variety of reasons, falls disproportionately on people of color and low-income workers. With governors stay-at-home orders and other pandemic safety restrictions, Center for Progressive Reform Member Scholars Thomas McGarity, Michael Duff, and Sidney Shapiro examine the federal government’s many missed opportunities to stem the spread of the virus in the nation’s workplaces, and make recommendations for what needs to happen next to protect employees on the job.
Millions of Americans are working from home in the ongoing public health effort to halt the spread of coronavirus. But many don’t have the benefit of home offices. They are creating makeshift workspaces from their dining room tables, kitchen counters, living room couches, or folding tables and chairs. While these workstations may meet basic needs, most fail to provide sound ergonomic design, according to April Chambers, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education. Chambers specializes in occupational ergonomics and bioengineering. She expects a steep rise in the number of people who are experiencing pain or discomfort in their neck, back, or shoulders. Unchecked, the pain can develop into long-term musculoskeletal injuries.
Source: Strikewave, 2020
Workplace health and safety is more important now, than ever. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, essential workers—whether unionized or not—have fought employers to ensure that workers and the public are protected.
One tool available to workers: complaints made to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA. We’ve compiled an interactive map of COVID-19 complaints made nationwide including the names of employers, narrative descriptions of their offenses, and an overall breakdown of complaints by industry.
From the abstract:
There are racial and ethnic disparities in the risk of contracting COVID‐19. This study sought to assess how occupational segregation according to race and ethnicity may contribute to the risk of COVID‐19.
Data about employment in 2019 by industry and occupation and race and ethnicity were obtained from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey. This data was combined with information about industries according to whether they were likely or possibly essential during the COVID‐19 pandemic and the frequency of exposure to infections and close proximity to others by occupation. The percentage of workers employed in essential industries and occupations with a high risk of infection and close proximity to others by race and ethnicity was calculated.
People of color were more likely to be employed in essential industries and in occupations with more exposure to infections and close proximity to others. Black workers in particular faced an elevated risk for all of these factors.
Occupational segregation into high‐risk industries and occupations likely contributes to differential risk with respect to COVID‐19. Providing adequate projection to workers may help to reduce these disparities.
As the coronavirus spreads, more and more workers who are still on the job are taking action to defend their health and safety and demand hazard pay. Here’s a round-up. (For an earlier round-up, see “Organizing for Pandemic Time-Off,” Labor Notes, March 16, 2020.)
From the abstract:
Background: Transportation road maintenance and repair workers, or “maintainers,” are exposed to hazardous and variable noise levels and often rely on hearing protection devices (HPD) to reduce noise‐exposure levels. We aimed to improve upon HPD use as part of the HearWell program that used a Total Worker Health, participatory approach to hearing conservation.
Methods: Full‐shift, personal noise sampling was performed during the routine task of brush cutting. Work activities and equipment were recorded and combined with 1‐min noise measures to summarize personal noise‐exposure levels by equipment. Using noise‐monitoring results, HPD noise reduction ratings, and input from worker‐based design teams, a noise‐hazard scheme was developed and applied to the task and equipment used during brush cutting.
Results: Average (standard deviation) and maximum Leq 1‐minute, personal noise‐exposure levels recorded during brush cutting included chainsaws at 92.1 (7.6) and max of 111 dBA, leaf blowers at 91.2 (7.5) and max 107 dBA, and wood chipper at 90.3 (7.3) and max of 104 dBA. The worker‐designed noise‐hazard scheme breaks down noise exposures into one of three color bands and exposure ranges: red (over 105 dBA), orange (90‐105 dBA), or yellow (85‐90 dBA). The scheme simplifies the identification of noise levels, assessment of noise‐hazard, and choice of appropriate hearing protection for workers.
Conclusion: Combining noise‐exposure assessment with intervention development using participatory methods, we characterized noise exposure and developed an intervention to educate and assist in protecting workers as they perform noisy tasks.
From the abstract:
Background: Home healthcare workers (HHWs) provide medical and nonmedical services to home‐bound patients. They are at great risk of experiencing violence perpetrated by patients (type II violence). Establishing the reliable prevalence of such violence and identifying vulnerable subgroups are essential in enhancing HHWs’ safety. We, therefore, conducted meta‐analyses to synthesize the evidence for prevalence and identify vulnerable subgroups.
Methods: Five electronic databases were searched for journal articles published between 1 January 2005 and 20 March 2019. A total of 21 studies were identified for this study. Meta‐analyses of prevalence were conducted to obtain pooled estimates. Meta‐regression was performed to compare the prevalence between professionals and paraprofessionals.
Results: Prevalence estimates for HHWs were 0.223 for 12 months and 0.302 for over the career for combined violence types, 0.102 and 0.171, respectively, for physical violence, and 0.364 and 0.418, respectively, for nonphysical violence. The prevalence of nonphysical violence was higher than that of physical violence for professionals in 12 months (0.515 vs 0.135) and over the career (0.498 vs 0.224) and for paraprofessionals in 12 months (0.248 vs 0.086) and over the career (0.349 vs 0.113). Professionals reported significantly higher nonphysical violence for 12‐month prevalence than paraprofessionals did (0.515 vs 0.248, P = .015).
Conclusion: A considerable percentage of HHWs experience type II violence with higher prevalence among professionals. Further studies need to explore factors that can explain the differences in the prevalence between professionals and paraprofessionals. The findings provide support for the need for greater recognition of the violence hazard in the home healthcare workplace.
Source: Employment Alert, Volume 36, Issue 23, November 12, 2019
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has formed a national alliance with the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA), and Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) to protect the safety and health of workers in the solid waste industry. During the two-year agreement, the Alliance will address transportation hazards, including backovers and distracted driving; slips, trips, and falls; musculoskeletal injuries; heat and cold stress; and needle stick and other hazards. Participants plan to develop and share information about preventing and mitigating these hazards through articles, toolkits, fact sheets, exhibits at local and national industry conferences, and discussions at forums and other meetings. Participants will focus their efforts and outreach on small- and medium-sized employers…..
Source: Orianne Dumas, Krislyn M. Boggs, Catherine Quinot, Raphaëlle Varraso, Jan‐Paul Zock, Paul K. Henneberger, Frank E. Speizer, Nicole Le Moual, Carlos A. Camargo Jr., American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Early View, November 6, 2019
From the abstract:
Exposure to disinfectants among healthcare workers has been associated with respiratory health effects, in particular, asthma. However, most studies are cross‐sectional and the role of disinfectant exposures in asthma development requires longitudinal studies. We investigated the association between occupational exposure to disinfectants and incident asthma in a large cohort of U.S. female nurses.
The Nurses’ Health Study II is a prospective cohort of 116 429 female nurses enrolled in 1989. Analyses included 61 539 participants who were still in a nursing job and with no history of asthma in 2009 (baseline; mean age: 55 years). During 277 744 person‐years of follow‐up (2009‐2015), 370 nurses reported incident physician‐diagnosed asthma. Occupational exposure was evaluated by questionnaire and a Job‐Task‐Exposure Matrix (JTEM). We examined the association between disinfectant exposure and subsequent asthma development, adjusted for age, race, ethnicity, smoking status, and body mass index.
Weekly use of disinfectants to clean surfaces only (23% exposed) or to clean medical instruments (19% exposed) was not associated with incident asthma (adjusted hazard ratio [95% confidence interval] for surfaces, 1.12 [0.87‐1.43]; for instruments, 1.13 [0.87‐1.48]). No association was observed between high‐level exposure to specific disinfectants/cleaning products evaluated by the JTEM (formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, bleach, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol quats, or enzymatic cleaners) and asthma incidence.
In a population of late career nurses, we observed no significant association between exposure to disinfectants and asthma incidence. A potential role of disinfectant exposures in asthma development warrants further study among healthcare workers at earlier career stage to limit the healthy worker effect.