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National COSH Releases Model Health and Safety Demands to Protect Essential Workers and the Public

Friday, April 17, 2020
Press Contacts: 

Roger Kerson, 734.645.0535

How can workers stay safe during COVID-19?

National COSH Releases
Model Health and Safety Demands
to Protect Essential Workers and the Public

SAN DIEGO – As more and more essential workers are falling ill and dying from COVID-19, both union and non-union workers are fighting for – and winning –crucial improvements in working conditions which can reduce exposure and slow the spread of the deadly virus.

To support workers on the front lines, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) has developed “Model Workplace Safety and Health Demands for Essential Workers.” The document, available at the National COSH website, draws on the experience of workers during this and previous infectious disease outbreaks.

“COVID-19 is highly contagious and represents a deadly hazard in the workplace,” said Peter Dooley, safety and health senior project coordinator for National COSH. “Like other hazards, the best way to confront it is to involve workers in planning, training and implementing safety controls.”
Model demands outlined by National COSH include a written safety plan, developed with worker input; training in a language workers can understand; a labor-management health and safety committee; paid time off for workers with symptoms or known exposure to COVID-19, and supplemental pay for essential workers.

Engineering controls and process changes, which reduce possible contact with the virus across the entire work environment, are a top priority. Having workers involved to know how the job gets done is critical. If personal protective equipment (PPE) is also needed, it must be provided at no cost to workers, along with training, continuous monitoring, and regular reporting of progress and results”
“Putting a box of masks in a workroom isn’t enough to keep workers safe,” said Dooley. “First, you have to analyze routes of exposure, with input from workers.”

Hazard control measures recommended in the “Model Demands” document include:

  • Closing all non-essential workplaces and focusing resources on those that must remain open to provide food, shelter, sanitation, health care and other vital needs.
  • Use of physical barriers to separate people by at least six feet.
  • Reduced use of shared tools; decontamination when sharing does occur.
  • Washing stations with water, soap and clean towels; and/or hand sanitizer stations.
  • In retail establishments, schedule the public and workers to reduce person-to-person contact.

“This crisis has demonstrated, more clearly than ever, that worker health cannot be separated from public health,” said Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of National COSH. “When workers become sick, it also puts their families and communities at greater risk of contracting this deadly virus. Essential workers who are standing up and fighting for safety at work are not only protecting themselves – they’re protecting all of us.”

Partnering with COSH affiliates, unions and allies, essential workers are promoting industry-specific demands and recommendations, consistent with the principles outlined above. Specific examples include grocery workers, health care workers, poultry workers, seafood workers, warehouse workers and others. 

Industry demands and other resources are featured on new National COSH web pages, in English and Spanish, with information for workers who face COVID-19 in their workplaces. A “Coronavirus@Work” infographic is also available in English and Spanish.

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National COSH links the efforts of local worker health and safety coalitions in communities across the United States, advocating for elimination of preventable hazards in the workplace. For more information, please visit coshnetwork.org. Follow us at National Council for Occupational Safety and Health on Facebook, and @NationalCOSH on Twitter.