Federal OSHA has received thousands of COVID-19-related complaints from workers across the U.S. who are required to work despite the hazards posed by the pandemic.
Workers in healthcare, construction, grocery stores, pharmacies and shipping companies filed more than 3,000 complaints claiming their employers aren’t keeping them safe from exposure to the coronavirus.
Freedom of Information request for records
Complaints ranged from PPE shortages to lack of space that would enable proper social distancing to being forced to work with employees who were visibly ill, according to the Washington Post, which obtained OSHA records via a Freedom of Information Act request.
The request called for worker complaints regarding the coronavirus filed with federal OSHA from January through early April. Actions taken in response to the complaints were not indicated on the records.
Lack of PPE, soap/sanitizer, social distancing
These records “depict the desperation of the employees as well as their frustrations with employers, who in the view of workers were at best simply unprepared for a pandemic and at worst unconcerned with worker safety.”
One complaint from an employee at a call center involves employees having to work within 2 feet of each other, while another concerns four different bathrooms in one facility being out of soap and hand sanitizer.
Many of the complaints were from healthcare workers who were given things like plastic ponchos and masks made out of paper towels to use as PPE.
Retail, healthcare worker deaths
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected workers in a variety of industries across the country, including:
- infection of more than 500 workers at the Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, SD
- deaths of workers at a Trader Joe’s in Scarsdale, NY, a Giant in Largo, MD and a Wal-Mart in Chicago, and
- the deaths of at least 40 registered nurses in the U.S., according to National Nurses United.