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Required and Voluntary Occupational Use of Hazard Controls for COVID-19 Prevention in Non-Health Care Workplaces – United States, June 2020

Our take —

In a survey of 742 non-remote employees working in a non-healthcare setting in the US between March and June 2020, about half (45.6%) reported occupational use of protective equipment for COVID-19 prevention (e.g., face shields, masks). Fewer than a third of participants (28.9%) reported voluntary use of protective equipment if their employers did not mandate nor prohibit it. These survey data were weighted to match the US population, however, the prevalence and effect estimates may have been biased. For example, the researchers depended on mail-based recruitment, which is most likely to reach people with stable addresses, and self-reported data, in which people may misrepresent themselves.

Study design

Cross-Sectional

Study population and setting

A sample of US adults (aged 18 and older) were recruited randomly by mail in June 2020 to participate in an online survey measuring COVID-19 precautions in the workplace. Analyses were restricted to participants who self-reported working in non-healthcare settings and in-person from March 2020 onwards. The relationship between employer provision of protective equipment for COVID-19 mitigation in the workplace (e.g., masks, face shields, other personal protective equipment) and voluntary use of protective equipment were investigated using risk differences, estimated from weighted regression models.

Summary of Main Findings

Among 742 participants retained in the analysis, half (45.6%) reported using protective equipment in the workplace—over half (55.5%) of whom were required by their employers to do so. Among those who did not use protective equipment in the workplace, a majority (77.2%) perceived not needing them in the workplace. Compared to higher-income adults, lower-income adults were less likely to report using protective equipment (22.3% vs. 48.9%) and that their employer mandated using protective equipment (22.3% vs. 27.7%), but were more likely to report being unable access protective equipment (12.6% vs. 4.5%) and were prohibited from using protective equipment (6.8% vs. 2.5%). Protective equipment was reported as being used by one quarter (28.9%) of participants whose workplaces had no policies mandating or prohibiting the use of protective equipment. Controlling for occupation type and self-reported proximity to others in the workplace, voluntary use of protective equipment was 22.3% higher among adults provided with protective equipment in the workplace relative to adults whose employers did not provide protective equipment.

Study Strengths

Investigators captured multiple response options (i.e., inability to obtain, prohibited from using, required use, provided but not required use) to measure workplace policies governing occupational provision and use of protective equipment.

Limitations

Mail-based recruitment may have oversampled adults whose experiences and behaviors are different from those who were unable to participate, potentially producing biased prevalence and effect estimates. Additionally, because the survey was fielded at a single point in time (June 2020), results may not be representative of employed adults at other points in time. Because these were self-reported data, investigators could not confirm personal protective equipment usage or workplace provision of protective equipment.

Value added

This is among the first studies to estimate the prevalence of provision and use of protective equipment for COVID-19 prevention in non-healthcare occupational settings in the United States.

This review was posted on: 9 April 2021