As delta variant spreads, so does risk to workers - Health Professionals & Allied Employees

As delta variant spreads, so does risk to workers

Taken from

By Monsy Alvarado

August 3, 2021

Cecelia Gilligan Leto often fields calls from workers concerned for their safety while they do their jobs.

As project director for the New Jersey Work Environment Council, Leto has trained people in workplace safety for years. So, when the novel coronavirus began to spread last year, workers in health care, retail, warehouses and in other occupations turned to her.

“You had this invisible thing come into the workplace; people just didn’t know what to do with it, and there was a lot to learn in the beginning,’’ she said. “COVID was a new hazard, and in February and March those calls kept coming in and the people were fearful, and they were scared.”

More than a year later as the spread of the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19 has caused an uptick in new cases and hospitalizations in New Jersey, Leto said she’s getting calls again.
“That fear is still with us; now there is concern about who is vaccinated and who is not vaccinated,’’ she said.

COVID-19 infections were found in different workplaces last year during the height of the pandemic, leading to federal inspections at different works sites. And dying of COVID-19 from an infection on the job remains a threat as more workplace deaths were reported last year than in recent years.

Inspections by OSHA

So far in 2021, the New Jersey offices of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have conducted 32 COVID-19-related fatality and catastrophe inspections, according to Joanna Hawkins, a spokeswoman for the agency.

Last year, OSHA conducted 180 COVID-19-related fatality inspections in New Jersey. In addition, federal OSHA initiated two employer-reported referral inspections in the Garden State in response to hospitalization reports related to COVID-19.

Inspections the agency performed between Feb. 1, 2020 and Dec. 31, 2020 led to proposed penalties on companies totaling $342,424, Hawkins said.

On Monday, amid growing concerns about unvaccinated co-workers, Gov. Phil Murphy mandated inoculations for all workers in most state and private health care facilities, including nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, and correctional settings.

Last month, OSHA fined Avantor Fluid Handling, a pharmaceutical company in Monmouth County, $13,653. claiming that it did not enforce mask-wearing or social distancing among employees. The federal agency said that 30 of the company’s 50 employees tested positive for the virus. In November 2020, four company employees required hospitalization, and by January, two of the workers — a husband and wife — died due to complications related to the virus. The other workers recovered.

A spokesperson for Avantor could not be reached Monday, but a spokesperson for the company told the Asbury Park Press last month that the facility for several years has operated as a sterile, cleanroom environment where employees routinely wear masks, gowns and other protective gear.

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