Data shows many essential workers are unprotected on the frontline

May 12, 2020

The Shift Project data collected in March and April 2020 reveal that many large service-sector employers have been slow to implement the recommended protective measures to protect workers and customers. 

Overall, 65% of workers surveyed in the five-week period from March 7 to April 9 reported that their workplace had begun requiring employees to do additional cleaning of the store or restaurant. In this same period, more than half (56%) of workers reported that their employer had made gloves available to workers, while only 18% of workers reported new requirements to wear gloves. Nineteen percent of workers reported that their employer had made masks available, and only 7% new requirements to wear masks. 

Updated procedures varied significantly by sector and firm. Just 26% of delivery workers and 41% of warehouse workers reported new workplace cleaning procedures. Access to personal protective equipment (PPE) was uneven across sectors as well, with access to gloves ranging from 72% in hotels/motels to 29% in convenience stores and gas stations. 

And policies mandating that workers wear protective gear were even more uncommon, with requirements to wear masks vanishingly rare across workplaces, at between 2% and 7% in convenience stores, coffee shops, fast food, restaurants, grocery stores, retail, department stores and big-box stores. 

The Shift data also show some workplaces were far more proactive than others in instituting additional cleaning and providing masks and gloves to contain the spread of the virus. For example, among big-box stores and warehouse and fulfillment centers, Costco and Home Depot stand out and Walmart, Amazon and UPS lag in terms of cleaning, gloves, and masks. 

Yet, even as there is variation across firms, requirements to wear masks never exceed one-third of workers. 

In the absence of strong government-mandated standards, the safety and wellbeing of workers and the general public are left to the discretion of employers. And yet, we find that many employers in frontline industries have been slow to act, and that workers remain underequipped in such vital areas as grocery, fulfillment, food service and pharmacy. 

Shift has the report.

More COVID-19 coverage HERE.