New Data Finds Millions of US Workers at Risk of Infections on the Job

Baker and her co-authors used federal employment data to find that 10% of US workers are employed in occupations in which exposure to disease or infection happens at least weekly based on employee and employer self-reports.

A researcher at the University of Washington found that approximately 25% of the US workforce are in jobs that can be done at home, whereas the 75% of workers who cannot work from home are not only at risk of increased exposure to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), but to other job disruptions, such as layoffs, furloughs, or a reduction of hours.1

Marissa Baker based her calculations on research she published in 2018 in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, in which she found that 8% of workers in Federal Region X (Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho) work in jobs that expose them to infection or disease at least once per week at work. Those risks include flu-like illnesses, MRSA, and other respiratory illnesses, such as COVID-19.2

Baker and her co-authors used federal employment data to find that 10% of US workers are employed in occupations in which exposure to disease or infection happens at least weekly based on employee and employer self-reports. In addition, 18.4% of US workers are employed in occupations in which exposure to disease or infection happens at least monthly based on employee and employer self-report.2

“These are workers that need to be highlighted in conversations around social safety nets and need to be guaranteed access to things like paid sick leave, paid family leave, unemployment benefits for both lost jobs and reduced hours and guaranteed pay even if hours are reduced,” Baker said in a press release.1

Although these new response plans should include how to keep workers safe from exposure at work, the study authors noted that workers should not be showing up to work sick, since there is more potential in spreading disease within and outside the workplace.2

REFERENCES

  • Ellison, Jake. UW researcher identifies workers most harmed by economic disruption due to COVID-19. University of Washington. https://www.washington.edu/news/2020/03/26/uw-researcher-identifies-workers-most-harmed-by-economic-disruption-due-to-covid-19/. Published March 26, 2020. Accessed May 1, 2020.
  • COVID-19 crisis: millions of US workers at risk of infections on the job. Science Daily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/04/200429105834.htm. Published April 29, 2020. Accessed May 1, 2020.