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 A man rides through as grocery store workers and others stage a protest rally outside the Whole Foods Market, in the South End of Boston, to demand personal protective equipment, added benefits if needed and hazard pay, during the coronavirus pandemic on Apr. 7, 2020. (Photo by Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

OSHA Flooded With Thousands of Worker Complaints Accusing Employers of Violating Covid-19 Guidelines

"Powerful evidence that workers across the country are terrified and frustrated that their employers are not providing them with safe workplace."

Jake Johnson

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration in recent weeks has been flooded with thousands of worker complaints accusing employers of violating federal coronavirus prevention guidelines by failing to ensure proper social distancing on the job and providing inadequate safety equipment such as "masks made out of paper towels."

More than 3,000 coronavirus-related complaints were filed with OSHA between January and early April, according to the Washington Post, which obtained the records Thursday through a Freedom of Information Act request. That number is likely an undercount because it does not include complaints from 20 states that collect the records on their own, the Post noted.

"Workers across the country are terrified and are begging OSHA for help. Thousands have sent in complaints to OSHA, which has done almost nothing in response."
—David Michaels, former OSHA chief

"Collectively, the records depict the desperation of the employees and their frustrations with employers, who in the view of workers were at best simply unprepared for a pandemic and at worst callously unconcerned with worker safety," the Post reported.

One worker said of their employer in a complaint to OSHA that "they are forcing employees to work in very close contact with other employees and employees are worrie[d] for their health and safety."

According to the Post, the records "include numerous complaints from healthcare workers, including by those given 'plastic ponchos' and masks made out of paper towels. Employees report lack of hand sanitizer or soap in bathrooms, as well as pharmacists and technicians forced to work in close proximity without protective gear."

News of the surge in worker complaints comes as OSHA, which is overseen by Labor Secretary Eugue Scalia, is facing growing criticism for refusing to require employers to comply with federal coronavirus guidelines.

David Michaels, the former head of OSHA, told the Post that "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."

The lack of adequate workplace protections amid the coronavirus pandemic has had devastating consequences for frontline workers. Many workers in the healthcare and retail industries have walked off the job in recent weeks to protest unsanitary conditions and a lack of safety equipment.

An analysis released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than 9,200 U.S. healthcare workers have tested positive for Covid-19 and 27 have died as of April 9. The Post reported Sunday that at least 41 grocery store workers have died from Covid-19.

"Despite thousands of complaints from workers citing unsafe conditions, OSHA is still refusing to issue an emergency safety standard to protect workers from Covid-19 infections," the House Committee on Education and Labor tweeted Thursday.

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