Good policies can protect workers during pandemic

Good policies can protect workers during pandemic


The COVID-19 pandemic is in full swing yet most of Ohio’s economy has reopened. People are going back to work without proper safety measures in place. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has failed to issue workplace safety mandates. Without federal leadership, state leaders must act to protect working people, their families and communities. Today, Policy Matters Ohio put forward recommendations to keep working people safe during the pandemic.

Gov. DeWine’s mask mandate has slowed the surge of COVID-19 cases, but with more than 5 million Ohioans back at work, more is needed. COVID-19 clusters are popping up at some workplaces. At least 323 cases of COVID-19 were linked to outbreaks in seven meatpacking plants in Columbiana, Holmes, Stark and Wayne counties, leading to 31 hospitalizations and three deaths. Before restarting on-site classes, OSU confirmed nearly 100 positive cases among staff and students, foreshadowing risks to come as schools and universities reopen.

“Everyone deserves a safe workplace, and overcoming the pandemic and recession depends on it,” said report author and Policy Matters Researcher, Michael Shields. “Ohio policymakers have implemented some guidelines, but enforcement is needed along with financial supports to help workers and businesses comply.”

Shields makes a slate of recommendations for state policymakers, including: 

  • Requiring employers protect workers by providing face masks and hand sanitizer; through social distancing and with regular cleaning.
  • Requiring businesses reduce risk with offsite work, staggered shifts, increased physical space, barriers, or reducing operations.
  • Creating additional safety guidelines for health care workers and first responders, similar to those in California.
  • Enforcing existing public health and workplace safety laws.
  • Certifying workers and unions as workplace safety monitors, as California has done.
  • Implementing anti-retaliation protocols for workers who report violations. 
  • Proving emergency paid sick leave to high-risk and sick workers.

Shields made several recommendations for local officials, including:

  • Using county health departments to enforce existing workplace safety laws, prioritizing high-risk industries.
  • Filing public nuisance lawsuits against employers that endanger public health.
  • Revoking licenses or government contracts from persistent violators.

“Restoring the health of Ohio’s economy depends on keeping the people who live here safe and healthy,” said Shields. “Ohio leaders must take all possible steps to ensure workers are safe on the job.”