What are My Rights Regarding Personal Protective Equipment at Work?

September 21, 2020

Employers have the responsibility for providing their employees with safe workplaces and equipment. Throughout the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, safety issues have become more important to discuss.

Personal protective equipment (PPE), like masks and face shields, are now required for many types of workers. Health care professionals are not the only ones who need protective equipment at work. Restaurant servers, real estate agents, hotel staff, construction employees, and countless other workers must now use additional protection when working with the public.

How Does the OSHA Classify Employees?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have rules to guide employers on what actions they need to take to protect their workers. In light of the pandemic, these agencies have also issued guidelines that apply to PPE requirements. Depending on the type of work and risks involved, these regulations can vary.

The OSHA specifies that companies must first carry out workplace safety assessments to determine if dangers are present. The agency categorizes these hazards into different levels. The highest risk employees include health care workers who administer aerosol-generated medical procedures, morgue workers who do autopsies, and laboratory employees who handle and collect virus specimens. Mortuary workers who must handle corpses for cremation and burial, medical transport workers, health care support and delivery staff are the next groups at risk.

Medium risk workers can also contract the virus, and this category includes staff who work often and closely with the public. This group encompasses transportation workers, like bus drivers, teachers, retail workers, and cashiers. The OSHA classifies accountants, computer programmers, and outdoor workers as lower risk employees, but these workers can still face COVID-19 exposure.

What are the Different Types of PPE?

It is recommended that high risk employees are given surgical N95 masks if fluid protection is needed, and N95 respirator face masks to guard them against airborne infections. It is also just as important for employers to ensure that these are properly fitted and used through appropriate training. These employees should also be given nitrile, latex, or vinyl gloves, face shields, goggles, and other protective equipment, like isolation gowns, as needed.

Medium and lower risk employers may need masks, disinfectant sprays, hand sanitizers, face masks, and Plexiglas shields at their workstations.

Many employees were already used to wearing PPE at work before the pandemic. Medical professionals have always used masks and gloves, while construction workers used hard hats, goggles, and respirators.

If the PPE does not fit properly or an employee cannot use it, this can put a worker at risk for an injury or illness. For example, a latex allergy can prevent an employee from wearing employer-provided gloves, or a worker with a respiratory condition may be unable to wear certain face masks. These employees may need to work from home or be separated from other employees.

What if My Employer Does Not Provide PPE?

Not all companies provide their employees with adequate PPE, even though the OSHA enforces these standards. Employees in these situations can be putting themselves at risk by not having essential safety equipment. Workers may also be afraid to speak up because they fear that they will lose their jobs.

What are My Rights as a Worker?

Federal laws stipulate that employees must keep their workplaces free from known safety and health hazards. Employees are entitled to be provided with needed safety equipment, including PPE. Training should also be provided and be offered in a language that workers understand.

A worker also has the right to see any data pertaining to work injuries or illnesses. An employee also can review any tests taken to determine workplace hazards and request OSHA inspections. Employees can also talk to OSHA inspectors to get more information and may also choose to file a complaint with the OSHA. An employees who believes they are at risk can notify their employer. If this does not prove effective, the employee can file a complaint.

What Happens if a Company Violates Safety Policies?

Companies that violate OSHA safety policies can be penalized through fines, which can be significant. In some cases, the agency many initiate class-action negligence lawsuits. In other cases, the OSHA will allow workers to remain at home until new safety standards are implemented and enforced.

The largest union for nurses in the United States, National Nurses United, has filed more than 100 COVID-19-related PPE complaints. As the pandemic continues to grow with reported PPE shortages, it is likely that there will be more complaints and lawsuits.

Hiring a Lawyer After a Work Accident

After a workplace accident, a hurt worker should talk to a lawyer. A lawyer will help their client file a Workers’ Compensation claim so that they can receive necessary compensation.

If a worker is concerned about the lack of safety protocols at work, they should also speak to an attorney about their options.

Vineland Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at DiTomaso Law Protect the Rights of Injured Workers

PPE is highly important at work, it protects all essential employees. If you feel your work is unsafe or you were injured at work, reach out to one of our Vineland Workers’ Compensation lawyers at DiTomaso Law. Call us at 856-414-0010 or complete our online form for a free consultation. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Mt. Holly, Camden County, and Vineland.