The health and safety of workers in the United States has never come under more scrutiny in the history of this country than it has in recent months during the COVID-19 pandemic, for good reason.
A staggering number of employers, small and large, including Whole Foods, McDonald’s, and Amazon have failed to provide workers with basic protective gear and sanitation and social distancing protocols to keep them safe at work. More than 48 meatpacking workers have died, and thousands more have gotten sick.
A new interactive web tool that maps all COVID-19-related health and safety complaints filed in the United States allows users to get a staggering sense of the worksites where workers feel that employers have jeopardized their health and safety. The tool uses data from complaints filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the federal agency tasked with ensuring safe and healthy working conditions for workers. Each complaint is geotagged onto the location of the worksite, and includes the name of the employer, descriptions of the offenses, and a breakdown of these complaints by industry.
So far, workers have filed more than 4,000 coronavirus-related complaints. This is undoubtedly just the tip of the iceberg, given the amount of time and fortitude it takes to file a federal complaint against one’s employer.
Indeed, filing a complaint with OSHA doesn’t guarantee that an inspector will investigate, nor that an employer will be hit with a violation. Workers first must submit a written complaint, then patiently wait for OSHA to determine whether it warrants an inspection. Top priorities for inspection are worksites with imminent dangers to workers and previous fatalities or catastrophic injuries.
During the pandemic, OSHA has said that there would be few inspections of worksites apart from those involved in the highest risk category, such as healthcare. Laughably, it called on employers to conduct their own investigations, even in the notoriously unsafe meat-packing industry, where dozens of workers have died from COVID-19. OSHA has been criticized for offering few changes to workplace rules that would incentivize employees to address hazards specific to coronavirus.
If an OSHA inspector visits a worksite and determines a violation has occurred, employers are fined and must make changes. Throughout the process, OSHA guarantees that workers’ identities will be concealed from their employers.
The OSHA Complaint Tracker map created by Strike Wave has tracked complaints filed through May 17, and will be updated as more data is made publicly available. Industry data is available for all complaints. Not surprisingly, most of the complaints have called out hospitals, nursing care homes, physician’s offices, and supermarkets.