Health care, the US Postal Service, and supermarkets are the top industries for worker complaints of employers failing to protect them on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.
Between Jan. 1 and April 22, workers filed 7,328 complaints about working conditions with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), according to updated data the agency released on Monday. A broad swath of health care professions account for the largest percentage of that total, with hospital workers accounting for 11% with 830 complaints.
Workers in nursing care facilities have filed 233 complaints, or 3% of all the complaints filed. In total, workers in health care–related professions made up more than one-quarter of the total complaints.
Though they represent only 2.5% of the total, at 182 complaints, supermarket workers filed the second-largest number of coronavirus-related allegations, voicing concerns about poor social distancing and disinfecting protocols and employers failing to provide personal protective equipment.
The concerns range from the unsettling to the grave.
One complaint filed by a supermarket employee on April 13 in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, says that the complainant's employer, Market Basket, was “requiring employees to come into work with symptoms that match COVID-19 symptoms.”
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After supermarket employees, postal workers filed the second-most number of complaints (1.6%), sending in their concerns at a disproportionately higher rate than workers as a whole. There are currently 44 open OSHA complaints from postal workers and 71 closed complaints.
Many of those complaints say that postal workers were being forced to work in close quarters, or that surfaces weren’t being regularly disinfected. One complaint filed in Durham, North Carolina, on April 15 says that up to 50 workers in a postal facility “work closely together daily.”
According to another complaint filed in Camden, New Jersey, on April 8, "Workers were exposed to workers that were positive for COVID-19 and the facility had not [been] decontaminated." Two other postal workers, one in Providence, Rhode Island, and one in Buena Park, California, made similar complaints within the same week.
Other industries in the top 10 of total complaints include construction, courier services, warehouses, limited-service restaurants, and new car dealerships.
How many of those complaints are investigated could depend on OSHA’s staffing capacity. Violators are fined in accordance with the severity of the safety issue, but fewer investigators are working for the federal agency than at any time since 1975, according to a report published Tuesday by the National Employment Law Project.
Debbie Berkowitz, the author of the report, said the reduction in OSHA’s resources leaves workers in danger. “[D]uring the COVID-19 pandemic, OSHA has completely abdicated its responsibility to ensure that employers keep workers safe on the job,” Berkowitz writes. “More than 16,000 workers have already fallen ill and hundreds have died from COVID-19, including workers in hospitals, first response, nursing homes, meat and poultry plants, warehouses, grocery stores, and mass transit.”
A spokesperson for OSHA didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.