IOSHA receiving scores of coronavirus-related workplace complaints

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. The sample was isolated from a patient in the U.S. (NIAID-RML)

Indiana’s workplace safety agency has gotten more than seven times its usual number of complaints this year — most of them related to coronavirus precautions.

Early on, when all but essential businesses had to close, there were a lot of calls questioning whether a business was staying open when it shouldn’t be. Now, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is fielding calls about businesses are doing enough to supply masks and sanitizer.

Some legislators are uneasy about IOSHA’s efforts to enforce workplace coronavirus protections. Noblesville Representative Chuck Goodrich (R) says businesses have complained to him about what he calls the threatening tone of IOSHA letters. And Kokomo Representative Heath VanNatter (R) says with IOSHA suspending most site visits due to a pandemic, the agency’s letters put business owners in a position of having to prove their innocence.

Deputy labor commissioner Michelle Ellison says IOSHA typically isn’t threatening shutdowns, but asking businesses what precautions they’re taking, and offering ideas on how to virus-proof the workplace. She points to hand sanitizer as an example: while businesses are required to maintain a safe environment, there’s no specific requirement to provide sanitizer. She says a letter in response to a sanitizer complaint wouldn’t order businesses to stock up, but would ask what steps they’re taking to promote proper hand-washing.

And Ellison says there’s been a shift in the nature of the complaints the agency receives about masks. At the beginning of the pandemic, she says workers were objecting when their employers didn’t provide masks. Now, she says, there’s an increase in workers objecting to having to wear them.

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