The Investigators: Do safety laws protect workers who report to work during the pandemic?

The Investigators: Do safety laws protect workers who report to work during the pandemic?

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The WMC Action News 5 Investigators have received emails from employees stating they do not feel safe reporting to work every day.

“It’s scary,” said a woman who works as a fork lift operator at a local warehouse. She did not want to be identified.

“When you on a lift and you pass by somebody, you may have to go and get a part and y’all right by each other,” she said. “There’s no way to do social distancing.”

About 130 written complaints came into the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration (TOSHA) from March 1 to March 24 , according to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

That means more than five workers a day submitted complaints during that period, and 30-50% of those complaints were about having to report to work, said the agency.

But will TOSHA investigate those complaints?

“The typical spread of germs in the workplace is not governed by any workplace health standard,” said Chris Cannon, Department of Labor spokesman.

Cannon said TOSHA will send a letter to the complainant’s employer reiterating the CDC’s recommendations.

There are no specific OSHA standards covering COVID-19 exposure but the federal administration released a guide book to workplaces this month, though it did not create “new legal obligations.”

The guide says employers should plan for the pandemic now or face “a cascade of failures” including workers being absent.

It also includes an Occupational Risk pyramid.

Health care workers belong in the Very High Risk category while most everyone else belongs in the Lower or Medium exposure risk.

Most who have jobs that require frequent and/or close contact with people are in the Medium Exposure Risk category.

“In areas where there is ongoing community transmission, workers in this category may have contact with the general public (e.g., in schools, high-population-density work environments, and some high-volume retail settings),” the guide states.

There are some laws already in place that may protect workers, including sanitation requirements. Businesses must supply soap and water to employees for hygiene.

Additionally, the General Duty Clause in the Occupational Safety and Health Act states employers must provide a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.

However, those requirements do little to ease this worker’s concerns.

“They don’t care about us,” she said about her employer. “I’m just going to be real.”

You can find OSHA’s guide here.

The file an OSHA complaint in Tennessee, click here.

To file an OSHA complaint against a public entity in Arkansas, visit this link. You can call the number for the person provided. To file a complaint against a private company, click here.

To file an OSHA complaint in Mississippi, visit this link.

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