Health and safety measures remain critically important three months into the coronavirus crisis in our country – and may become even moreso. As we officially enter the summer months, we’re seeing more and more businesses reopen while COVID-19 cases surge across the U.S., bringing more people into contact with one another as the virus persists in workplaces, in hospitals, in communities, in homes.
Across the country and industries, companies are taking a range of actions and approaches to worker health and safety. Unfortunately, reports indicate that across the spectrum of corporate actions, many workers continue to feel unsafe and at risk on the job. In the auto industry, for example, despite companies implementing new policies and procedures, a larger-than-usual number of workers have taken off work as their colleagues test positive COVID-19. Other companies have begun to relax new policies and practices put in place in response to the pandemic, and those effects can be devastating. Earlier this month, Tyson Foods reverted to its strict pre-pandemic absence policy, leading to hundreds of cases among its plant workers (and over 7,000 total over the course of the crisis).
Shockingly, OSHA, the government agency charged with addressing workplace safety, has been largely absent during this crisis, failing to enforce CDC guidelines or issue emergency rules for worker protections. As the New York Times notes, OSHA has received more than 5,000 complaints related to the coronavirus but has issued only one citation. What that has meant in practice is that businesses are on their own to navigate this complicated environment, and some are better equipped and motivated than others to implement the guidance. It’s a perfect storm – a new safety challenge that leads to fatalities paired with no guidance from the federal government, along with little recognition from the business community that that guidance could be helpful in operations and saving lives. In fact, many companies are lobbying Congress for protection against lawsuits they could encounter should their workers become sick.
This is un-trod territory. Government leaders have not had to take a strong stance on pandemic guidelines, and corporate leaders haven’t had to think about the specific safety implications of contagious diseases. As we move forward and more and more people return to work, health and safety practices are becoming more – not less – important. And with little government oversight, companies need to take the lead in helping to ensure the safety of their workers, customers, and communities.
Americans agree. Based on our recent survey fielded in collaboration with our partners at The Harris Poll– which looks at what Americans want from corporate America during the response, reopening, and reset phases of the crisis – three in four respondents believe that companies should prioritize health and safety, even if it means taking a more cautious approach to re-opening. Furthermore, 69% say that they would rather experience financial strain than risk their health by returning to work too soon.
Health and safety measures – in particular, the provision of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) – have been critically important for essential workers on the front lines of our nation’s businesses throughout the crisis. As part of our COVID-19 Corporate Response Tracker – which analyzes the specific actions America’s 300 largest employers have taken to support their workers, customers, and communities during COVID-19 – we looked at whether companies had instituted additional health and safety measures, like enhanced cleaning and social distancing, as well as specifically whether they’ve provided their workers with PPE.
Based on our analysis – which now tracks the 300 largest employers, up from 100 in our original tracking – we found that 63% of companies had announced additional health and safety measures during COVID-19. However, only 26% disclosed they will specifically provide their workers with free PPE. Many of these are companies whose employees have been on the frontlines throughout the crisis – like UPS, Target, and Darden, all of which have provided PPE and instituted other key precautions to the workers in their delivery trucks, stores, and restaurants. Yet, even among companies that have adopted policies like providing workers with free PPE, implementation remains difficult and in some cases falls woefully short. Additionally, only 31% of companies have disclosed new paid sick leave policies, which means that in many cases, workers have to choose between their job and their health, as well as the health of their coworkers, instead of being able to stay at home. As more companies reopen and more workers join the frontlines, it’s critical that these same precautions continue to be upheld – both in newly opened offices and stores, and for the workers that have been toiling on the frontlines throughout.
Explore the full list of companies prioritizing health and safety for their workers here:
As part of our survey, we asked Americans which pandemic-related policies and processes companies should continue to uphold twelve months from now. 75% agree that companies should continue to enforce safety and sanitation across operations, rather than return to those that were in place before the pandemic.
While many companies have shown outstanding leadership in the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak, some of the most critical tests are yet to come. With government leaders taking a backseat in enforcing issues like health and safety, it’s up to corporate leaders to help ensure that the American public stays safe as businesses reopen and the pandemic continues to unfold. As many return to work, we will continue to track which businesses prioritize health and safety in the months ahead – making sure that workers are protected on the factory floor, in grocery store aisles, and at their desks.
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