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April 14, 2020

America’s Workers Put in Harm’s Way Without Proper Protective Equipment

ppe - hand sanitizer and mask

Around the country, tens of thousands of frontline workers have been called upon to complete their everyday duties under extraordinary circumstances. Grocery store employees, adult care staff, and even first responders and medical workers have all faced woefully inadequate provisions from their employers when it comes to the personal protective equipment (PPE) they are provided to carry out their duties. 

Today’s spotlight series comes to you from our Florida workers’ compensation team as we explore what to do when you or a loved one has faced an injury or worse, passed away, when the proper equipment to perform a job safely was not provided.

Grocery Workers Stage ‘Sick Out’ to Protest Working Conditions

A few weeks into the pandemic, Whole Foods workers across the nation collectively called in sick to protest the conditions they were facing as they were being asked to carry on their normal course of duties. Facing huge crowds, increased risk of exposure, and demanding workloads amidst the pandemic, the movement organizers at Wholefoods sought paid sick leave for workers quarantining, funds for testing fellow team members, as well as health care for part-time employees – a benefit that had just been cut by parent company Amazon for part-time workers in January. One worker told Bloomberg news, “Workers are being forced to choose between their safety and the safety of their loved ones and being able to pay their bills.”

The movement at Wholefoods is in no way isolated. Workers at Perdue Farms, McDonald’s, and GE have also protested the lack of training, equipment, and support provided by their employers during COVID. Other employers like Walmart have just seen greater numbers of workers calling out sick. With the pandemic squeezing supply lines, the same workers that are being called upon to show up at their posts day-after-day, must then face the same hardships as the rest of America in something as simple as getting groceries for their family. 

For those in high-risk positions like first responders and medical workers or where a work-related activity resulted in probable exposure to the virus, exposure to COVID can qualify as a work-related incident. This incident then falls under the coverage provisions of the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance. Unfortunately, and all too often, the insurance company fails to provide anywhere near a fair offer for a workers compensation claim. When workers’ compensation rights are ignored, it’s time to call on an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to get the insurance company to come to the table and provide a fair offer of compensation.

OSHA: Employers Must Pay for their Employee’s PPE

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets the standard when it comes to the requirements of employers for PPE and these requirements are nothing new. To comply with OSHA standards for a safe working environment, starting in 2008 employers were required to purchase PPE for their employees. PPE has come into the spotlight recently with millions seeking a limited supply of masks, gloves, sanitizer, and cleaners, creating a drastic shortage for these essential items across the country. But at its core, PPE is simply the equipment required to perform a job safely and can be anything from gloves to earplugs, hardhats to respirators. 

Under  OSHA 20 CFR 1910, PPE is required whenever the hazards of the job warrant their use. In order to provide a safe working environment, employers are obligated to:

  • Perform a hazard assessment in their workplace to ID hazards to employee health
  • ID and provide the appropriate PPE for every employee
  • Train employees in proper use of their PPE
  • Maintaining/Replacing PPE, as required
  • Reviewing/Updating their PPE program to maintain effectiveness 

Further, under the OSH Act of 1970, employers are required to provide each of their employees with “employment and a place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” These obligations are placed on employers so that workers are kept safe while they perform the tasks that earns them their paychecks and helps them provide for their families. Unfortunately, with COVID, there are instances across the country where frontline workers are being required to do their work when their employer has not fulfilled their duties under OSHA requirements. 

What to Do When You’re Injured at Work Because You Didn’t Receive Proper Protective Equipment

When an employer fails to provide their employees with a safe working environment, the results are that those most loyal to them, their employees, are adversely affected. With the coronavirus, employers are not only risking their employees’ health and well-being but the general public as well. We’ve seen where workers in long-term care facilities weren’t provided with proper PPE or funding for containing the spread of the virus and, as a result, people died.

If you or someone you love has been affected at work by a lack of PPE provided by your employer, let our workers’ compensation attorneys review the situation and see if a claim is warranted. If you choose us to represent you, we’ll handle the entire process and negotiate on your behalf seeking maximum compensation. Let our team help you chart a path forward now.

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