Business & Tech

Thousands of OSHA complaints filed against companies for virus workplace safety concerns

Associated Press/Elaine Thompson
Swedish Medical Center health care workers cheered as first responders gathered outside the hospital in support of them in their work against the coronavirus outbreak on Thursday in Seattle.

WASHINGTON — People asked to work during the pandemic have filed thousands of complaints regarding their exposure to the novel coronavirus and a lack of safeguards at their places of employment, according to records obtained under a Freedom of Information request.

The employee complaints offer a snapshot of the fear experienced by the Americans compelled to work while the majority have been urged to stay at home, and they come from an array of workplaces: hospitals, construction, grocery stores, pharmacies, and shipping companies, among others.

Collectively, the records depict the desperation of the employees as well as their frustrations with employers, who in the view of workers were at best simply unprepared for a pandemic and at worst unconcerned with worker safety.


Workers complain about shortages of masks and gloves, a lack of space that would enable them to stand six feet from one another, and being forced to work with others who appear sick.

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‘‘Employees have to share desks and people are within 2 feet from each other,’’ one complaint reads from a call center.

‘‘The company has stressed hand-washing for COVID-19 precaution; but 4 different bathrooms were out of hand soap yesterday and hand wipes/sanitizer supplies were lacking,’’ reads another. ‘‘Managers simply say they are on back-order.’’

The records include numerous complaints from health-care workers, including those given ‘‘plastic ponchos’’ and masks made out of paper towels. Employees report a lack of hand sanitizer or soap in bathrooms; pharmacists and technicians have been forced to work in close proximity without protective gear.

Citing the Freedom of Information Act, The Washington Post requested all worker complaints regarding the coronavirus filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration from January through early April. There were more than 3,000 such complaints filed. The records do not state what actions were taken as a result.


The actual number of complaints from employees about the coronavirus, however, is likely far higher because that data does not include the complaints from every state.

The toll on workers has been startling.

More than 500 workers at the Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, S.D., have reportedly come down with the virus. Already there have been deaths of workers at a Trader Joe’s in Scarsdale, N.Y., a Giant in Largo, Md., and a Walmart in the Chicago area. At least 40 registered nurses have died in the United States, according to National Nurses United.