November 22, 2022

Study: One in Five Non-Healthcare Workers Exposed to COVID-19 on the Job

Approximately one in five workers from non-healthcare settings reported being exposed to COVID-19 at work, according to the findings of a new study conducted by NIOSH researchers. And more than 48 percent of workers employed in protective service occupations—police officers, firefighters, correctional officers, and security guards, for example—reported occupational exposure to COVID-19. The study, which appears in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, includes data from more than 1,100 workers ages 18–64 who were diagnosed with COVID-19 between September 2020 and June 2021. Researchers partnered with six states—California, Georgia, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—to collect information about participants’ exposures to people with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 and where those exposures occurred.

The study found that work characteristics such as how physically close to others a person must work and whether they must interact with members of the public have an effect on different workers’ COVID-19 exposure opportunities. For example, many workers in protective service occupations are required to work in close proximity to coworkers and the public. Researchers found that nearly 34 percent of survey respondents who had close contact with more than 10 coworkers reported being exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace. And nearly 29 percent of workers who reported being in close contact with more than 10 customers or clients per day also reported occupational exposures to COVID-19.

These findings suggest that more workplace protections are needed, the authors of the study state.

“Further research and surveillance are needed to accurately describe patterns in SARS-CoV-2 exposure inside and outside of work both for those who have worked outside the home throughout the pandemic and those who have or will transition from remote work to in-person work,” the journal article concludes. “Such information would help identify [U.S.] worker populations with the greatest need for prevention interventions.”

The study is freely available to read in Clinical Infectious Diseases. Further information can be found in a NIOSH news update.