With the opening of states across the country, shoppers return to shopping malls and visit stores again, making worried health officials point to a resumption of infection in some regions. However, despite the continued risk of coronavirus, there is no system to track whether these facilities were involved in the outbreak, according to experts who monitor worker safety and a survey conducted by Yahoo News.
While retail stores do not require the same number of people indoors, like COVID-19 incubators, such as meat packing plants, they require many hours of work in the same building, often with limited ventilation, sharing common rooms and bathrooms and plentiful by public transport. interaction. However, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the government body responsible for treating injuries in the workplace, including infectious diseases such as COVID-19, does not have a system to keep track of new cases.
“I think the common view of the unions is that OSHA was a huge disappointment during this pandemic in protecting workers,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Union of Retail, Wholesale and Department Stores.
He criticized OSHA for not issuing quotes related to COVID-19, as the pandemic began despite many worker deaths. (OSHA issued the only link since the outbreak began, although not for the retailer. Winder’s nursing care in Georgia was cited May 18 for failing to report in accordance with agency record keeping requirements, according to a spokeswoman for the Department of Labor.)
In the past, OSHA has been criticized for failing to provide oversight, and critics say these problems were compounded by Labor Minister Eugene Scalia, who took office under President Trump. Scalia has a history of voting against proposed employee assistance programs, and OSHA has been criticism in May, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka for “missing” and “not fulfilling his obligations and obligations to protect workers.”
“In the Trump era, little surprises me, but I am incredibly disappointed that OSHA did not play a more active role in protecting workers from the biggest health and safety problems that our workforce has ever seen,” Appelbaum said.
The administration said it is currently investigating more than 5,000 complaints related to COVID-19 and is trying to expedite the process. “OSHA uses the complaint investigation process to more quickly handle COVID-19 complaints,” said a spokeswoman for Yahoo News. “The goal of OSHA is to quickly rid workers of hazards or eliminate hazards in the workplace.”
However, not only OSHA cannot shed light on possible flashes. Yahoo News interviewed 20 leading US retailers about its employee information policy – and the public – about cases of coronavirus among employees at their sites. Only five responded, and of these, only three companies – Amazon, Target and Home Depot – directly told Yahoo News that employees are informed if there is a known case in one of their institutions or stores.
None of these companies, including three that said they informed employees, will say whether they made any efforts to publicly disclose infections, potentially leaving customers in the dark.
“We inform team members who work in the place where the coronavirus case is confirmed, and we will continue to ensure the transparency of the process,” said Jake Anderson, communications manager at Target. “Being transparent, we also try to prevent the confidentiality of team members from being compromised with the information we share. We do not provide some details, as this increases the likelihood that the confidentiality of a team member will be violated. “
Amazon operates only a very small number of retail stores, but its warehouses have become an essential pillar for distribution of consumer goods during the pandemic, and there have been a number of outbreaks in its warehouses. The company reports that it informs employees at facilities where infection was reported.
“When the case of COVID-19 is confirmed in one of our buildings, we tell the news to everyone who works at this facility, not just those who came into close contact with the diagnosed person,” said Amazon spokeswoman Deborah Bass. Yahoo News.
TJX, parent company T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, and HomeGoods did not answer the question of whether they report coronavirus cases to employees in their stores, but stated that they have created a process to support the health and well-being of their employees and customers and are working with the guidelines of the local health department. ,
The Dollar General responded with a link to the company’s media website, which did not provide information about any COVID-19 records or cases.
It is difficult to say what threat the coronavirus poses to employees or customers at retail outlets. After the opening, many states demanded that stores limit the number of customers who are allowed to enter, and oblige them to use face masks for both staff and customers.
The fact that there is little data available suggests that there is a risk. In Colorado, for example, healthcare, food processing and correctional facilities continue to account for the largest share of COVID-19 cases, but retailers account for the majority of new outbreaks, according to Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, Even in shops where strict measures of social distance were applied, the number of people inside was limited and it was required that employees wear masks; outbreaks still took place.
However, the lack of data collection makes risk assessment difficult for retailers.
Many employers are working to track the virus to each potentially infected person, asking the original infected person in which department he works, with whom he contacted and where he went in the past few days. But OSHA does not have a system for recording COVID-19 cases in real time, which means that there is no way to get an idea of how much virus is spreading through retail outlets – or if the precautions set forth by the CDC are working.
OSHA requires employers to record injuries and deaths at the workplace, and these journals are also available to unions and workers and are posted on the OSHA website. But the logs do not provide real-time data collection because they are usually annual reports.
In response to questions from Yahoo News, OSHA emphasized its obligation to judge whether employers were careless in their COVID-19 investigations, but did not say anything about registering active cases, even though they were specifically asked about this.
“OSHA management emphasizes that employers should make reasonable efforts, based on the evidence available to the employer, to find out if a particular case of coronavirus is related to work,” a spokeswoman for the Department of Labor told Yahoo News. “Registration of coronavirus disease does not mean that the employer has violated any OSHA standard.”
The representative added that employers with 10 or less employees have no registration obligations other than those that result in death or inpatient hospitalization of the employee, amputation or loss of eye.
One of the main difficulties in tracking cases is that it is almost impossible to determine if someone has contracted for COVID-19 from work, and OSHA is only required to record cases related to work.
“However, given the nature of the disease and the prevalence in society, in many cases it is still difficult to determine whether coronavirus disease is associated with work, especially when the worker is exposed to potential effects both in the workplace and outside,” the Department of Labor said secretary.
OSHA has not developed a plan to free the virus from work-related requirements.
On April 10, shortly after the first spread of the virus, OSHA issued an interim guide stating that most employers outside the healthcare industry do not need to register COVID-19 cases because of the difficulty in deciding whether an employee has contracted for the virus at work.
“OSHA realized that it would be difficult for employers not at high risk to understand whether this is related to work. We still don’t know how this happens, ”said Steve Paraskandola, OSHA lawyer and environmentalist at Smith Anderson. “Thus, they recognized the public that it was difficult to do, and wanted people to focus on PPE.”
But on May 26, when the cities began to reopen, OSHA annulled the memorandum and put in place a new one specifically designed for COVID-19. This new guide requires employers to conduct a full investigation into whether the virus qualifies as work-related. Employers should ask how the employee entered into a contract with him, learn about non-working activities and analyze the employee’s working environment.
These requirements encourage more effort in investigating outbreaks, but they still limit the registration of diseases that have been acquired at work.
“Work-related definitions are pretty obvious in most situations, but a causal relationship with coronavirus, even outside of OSHA, will be extremely difficult to prove, at least in the short term,” said Paraskandola.
Worker safety seems to be lost in OSHA’s efforts to develop regulations that employers can easily follow. But since COVID-19 spreads faster indoors and people are most at risk when they are in close proximity for several hours, experts believe that OSHA should demand more vigilance from retail employers.
“I think we do not have enough information. We need more information, ”said Appelbaum, union president. “We need to know how different employers provide for the safety of the population, and I think that the very fact of having a database will make employers much more cautious.”
In the absence of such a database, employers must inform employees about the infection, and enhanced privacy protection measures do not allow them to give the name of the infected person, which makes it difficult for colleagues to determine whether they had contact.
“I can’t but emphasize that privacy laws have expanded significantly to such an extent that they now may be facing these efforts,” said Paraskandola.
In general, the focus was not on recording cases, but on taking security measures to avoid them.
“Now that the states have reopened, cities and counties are issuing directives on what is needed: advising non-essential employers, helping them move from a closed business to a safe starting business,” said Chuck Keller, Snell & Wilmer’s lawyer. “I would not say that the record is necessarily part of the plan itself.”
Karin Jones, partner at Stoel Rives Law Firm, said the employers she worked with sought to identify and disclose sick workers. However, without data on who is infected with the virus, it is impossible to know whether the recommended standards work.
“It’s a parody that you cannot really assess whether the protective equipment used is adequate or not,” said Jonathan Rosen, industrial safety and labor protection expert and consultant to the government and trade unions. “There’s a lot of debate about fabric masks, surgical masks, N95 respirators, sneezing guards, and plexiglass.”
Unions also play a role in protecting workers. The union of retailers, wholesalers and department stores insists that stores report this if one of their employees becomes ill, Appelbaum said, who says more than 42 people among its members have died.
The union has successfully put forward demands in stores like Macy’s to require the store to conduct temperature checks, rather than forcing employees to check their house temperature as requested. It was also agreed that union members are not required to serve clients who do not wear masks.
“I think OSHA should be aggressive in ensuring adequate safety at the workplace,” Appelbaum said. “I heard over and over that people stopped contacting OSHA because it was a waste of time. That has to change.
Rosen says that, ultimately, OSHA does not fulfill its core oversight functions.
“The whole concept of OSHA is to have unified national standards at the federal level for the entire industry so that we don’t have 51 different standards,” Rosen said.
“This is all a failure,” he said. “Osha is not doing its job.”
Learn more from Yahoo News: