A new National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) study found that one in five workers surveyed outside of the healthcare industry reported being exposed to COVID-19 at work.
Of the 1,111 respondents, 19.4% reported exposure to COVID-19 at work, 23.4% reported exposure outside of work only, and 57.2% reported no known exposure or didn’t know where they were exposed, according to the report.
Almost half, or 48.8%, of the respondents who worked in protective service occupations – such as police officers, firefighters, correctional officers and security guards – reported being exposed to COVID-19 at work. Many of these workers reported that they were required to work near members of the public and coworkers.
More than one-third, or 33.7%, of respondents who experienced close contact with more than 10 coworkers and 28.8% of respondents who experienced close contact with more than 10 customers or clients per day reported being exposed to COVID-19 at work.
Exposure dependent on occupation, industry, job duties
NIOSH researchers partnered with California, Georgia, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to collect information about workers in non-healthcare settings for this study. The workers were between ages 18 and 64 and all of them had been diagnosed with COVID-19 between September 2020 and June 2021.
All of the workers who participated in the survey experienced different COVID-19 exposure opportunities under varying conditions depending on the occupation, industry and specific job duties. These conditions determined
- how physically close to others the respondents had to work
- whether they were potentially exposed to infectious agents, and
- whether they needed to interact with the public.
Researchers asked the participating workers about their exposures to people known or suspected to have COVID-19 and where those exposures occurred. They also collected information about the workers’ occupations and the industries in which they worked. Workers were also questioned about their employer’s COVID-19 prevention policies and practices.
First of its kind study
“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to collect detailed information about work-related exposures and risk factors from people with COVID-19 employed in non-healthcare settings,” said Hannah Free, NIOSH technical information specialist and lead author of the study. “These results highlight the differences in exposures among different worker groups, which can help identify populations with the greatest need for prevention interventions.”