Between March and April, employers surveyed by law firm Blank Rome saw soaring increases in OSHA-related complaints–suggesting a troublesome trend for employers, especially as many gear up for bringing employees back to work in the coming weeks and months. The COVID-19 Employer Return-to-Work Survey included responses from more than 150 C-suite executives, HR leaders, in-house attorneys and more across a range of industries.
About 3% of respondents said their workplace had OSHA-related complaints filed against them in March, a figure that jumped to 12% when respondents were asked about April. “This indicates a potential trend whereby workers are flagging potentially unsafe working conditions related to business operations during the pandemic,” says Brooke Iley, co-chair of Blank Rome’s Labor & Employment practice group. With non-essential businesses shuttered during this time, Iley notes that many such complaints were made about manufacturing and productions operations that struggled to instate social-distancing guidelines.
What it means for HR leaders
While worker safety wasn’t the top concern of the pandemic for employers surveyed–the most common were instead the financial impact on the business and a potential global recession–organizations do appear to be taking steps to protect their employees. For instance, 88% plan to reconfigure the workspace, 64% will provide facial protection for employees and more than one-third will provide gloves. More than half intend to require workers to remain at least 6 feet apart from one another, per CDC social-distancing guidelines.
The survey, along with recent headlines about worker walkouts in response to unsafe conditions, “make it very clear that every employer must use this time to carefully plan for a safe workspace, both in the physical layout and potential for employee interactions, as states continue to loosen restrictions and allow nonessential business to return from remote work,” Iley says. “One of the best ways to minimize the potential for OSHA complaints is to make changes that are visible to the workforce and to communicate openly and often about these heightened safety protocols.”