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Coronavirus at work: Employers Responsible for Prevention Measures, Say Safety Advocates

Wednesday, February 12, 2020
Press Contacts: 

Roger Kerson, 734.645.0535; roger@nationalcosh.org

Coronavirus at work: Employers Responsible for Prevention
Measures, Say Safety Advocates

“Discrimination Doesn’t Make Us Safer”

SAN DIEGO – Coronavirus is a significant occupational health risk for tens of millions of U.S. workers in health care, transportation and other sectors -- and employers are responsible for effective safety measures, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) said today.

“This virus is new, but well-tested safety precautions against infectious disease can reduce the risk of workplace exposure ,” said National COSH co-executive director Jessica Martinez. “Every worker needs to know that employers are legally required to provide a safe workplace. That includes proper training, personal protective equipment, record-keeping and other measures to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.”  

Steps to prevent the spread of communicable diseases include:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick or infected
  • Stay home from work if you are sick
  • Clean surfaces and objects that may be contaminated
  • Frequent hand washing
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

“Inadequate sick leave policies are a major occupational health risk,” said National COSH co-executive director Marcy Goldstein-Gelb.  “Unfortunately, the U.S. lags behind most developed countries when it comes to providing time off from work – which makes it harder for workers to stay home when they are sick and stop the potential spread of a dangerous disease.”

Li Wenliang – the Chinese doctor who first warned of a dangerous new disease outbreak – died last week after being exposed to coronavirus at the hospital where he worked. After warning his colleagues about a new, unknown health risk, Dr. Li was detained by Chinese authorities for “spreading false rumors.”
Dr. Li’s death, said National COSH Safety and Health Senior Project Coordinator Peter Dooley, highlights the occupational risks associated with the virus and the importance of protecting whistleblowers.  “Workers are on the front lines when it comes to new risks to public health,” he said. “It’s vital that we protect the right of workers to speak out and listen to what they have to say.”

Employers and government agencies must also avoid counterproductive measures, said Martinez. “Discrimination doesn’t make us safer,” she said. “Travel bans, racial profiling and unfair treatment based on fear and prejudice, not science, make it more difficult to control this pandemic.” It is against U.S. law for a worker to be profiled and discriminated against based on their ethnicity and other protected classes.

National COSH  has published two new web pages, in English and Spanish, with information and resources for workers who may face the threat of the new virus in their workplaces. A new “Coronavirus@Work” infographic is also available in English and Spanish.

Resources now available from National COSH include links to information from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization.  Also included are fact sheets from National Nurses United and the Association of Flight Attendants – CWA, as well as a trilingual fact sheet – in English, Spanish and Chinese – from the County of San Diego.

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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.