Workers have filed more than 3,000 complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) alleging they were potentially exposed to the novel coronavirus, according to an analysis of complaints by The Washington Post obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Specific violations alleged in the complaints include lack of access to masks and gloves, insufficient space to stand six feet apart from one another and being forced to work with coworkers who appear to be sick. Another complaint from a delivery driver claimed they were required to buy chemicals to disinfect vehicles themselves and were not trained in using them.
Health care workers, at least 9,000 of whom have tested positive for the virus, also made numerous complaints, claiming they were given plastic ponchos and masks made out of paper towels in lieu of proper protective equipment, with other complaints reporting lack of hand sanitizer or soap in bathrooms as well as technicians and pharmacists saying they were made to work in close proximity.
The records obtained by the Post do not include descriptions of what actions, if any, the employers took in response.
“The large number of complaints they have received is powerful evidence that workers across the country are terrified and frustrated that their employers are not providing them with safe workplaces,” David Michaels, the former OSHA chief during the Obama administration, told the newspaper.
Numerous workers have organized demanding better protection against the virus, including at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, where the organizer of a walkout was fired in what he said was an act of retaliation, as well as Instacart, where thousands of workers staged a strike March 30. Amazon has claimed the worker, Chris Smalls, was fired for disregarding directions not to come to work for health reasons.
OSHA has yet to issue best practices for employers of workers deemed essential, resulting in wide variations in whether workplaces provide workers with masks or ask customers or workers to wear them. The agency has issued guidance recommending employers “consider offering face masks to ill employees and customers,” but noted in the document that it is not legally binding.