COVID-19, EHS Management, Injuries and Illness

NIOSH Highlights Importance of Occupation, Industry Data to COVID-19 Reports

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) stressed the importance of collecting, coding, analyzing, and reporting both industry and occupation data in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) case reports to form better strategies for reducing the impact of the pandemic on workers.

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COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. COVID-19 currently is widespread in most U.S. communities and considered a workplace hazard.

Collecting and recording information about industry and occupation can help public health officials identify workplace-related outbreaks and evaluate risks among various groups of workers. For example, the Washington State Department of Health and Department of Labor and Industries found that while workers in health care and social assistance make up only 13% of the state’s total workforce, 31% of COVID-19 cases involved workers in health care and social assistance.

However, Washington State officials also found that workers in agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting—who make up only 3% of the state’s total workforce—accounted for 11% of COVID-19 cases. COVID-19 cases among Hispanic workers were highest in agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting.

State officials were able to reassess materials distributed among workers in these industries to ensure the information is helpful to Hispanic workers.

Colorado officials working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) looked at occupational data reported for laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infections and found the most commonly reported workplace settings were:

  • Health care (38%),
  • Professional or office setting (17%),
  • Public administration or armed forces (7%), and
  • Manufacturing, including meatpacking (6%).

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has used these findings to inform its case investigation and outbreak response procedures and reemphasize social distancing protocols in various workplace settings during reopening.

CDC Case Investigation, Contact Tracing

The CDC updated its guidance for employers on COVID-19 case investigation and contact tracing. The CDC reminded employers that COVID-19 is a nationally notifiable disease, and when diagnosed or identified, it must be reported by healthcare providers and laboratories to state, tribal, local, or territorial health departments.

The CDC encouraged employers to cooperate with health departments that investigate workplace exposures to infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

When public health officials investigate a case, they will ask the patient about work status and work environment and about individuals he or she has been in close contact with, as well as locations he or she visited during the time he or she could have spread COVID-19 to others.

The health department may contact the employer, employees, or customers to let them know of potential exposures if a person has a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19 and was in a workplace where he or she may have had close contact with others, such as customers, other employees, or members of the public.

Public health officials may ask an employer for help in understanding the risk of transmission in the workplace and identifying likely exposures and contacts in the workplace. They also may rely on the employer to identify workplace contacts.

However, they also may conduct workplace contact tracing without directly engaging the employer. They may decide they don’t need the employer’s assistance, or they may not be permitted to involve an employer because of local or state privacy laws.