A Survey of Essential Workers’ Safety and Security During COVID-19

Clare Hammonds and Jasmine Kerrissey

May 1, 2020


While most of the country shelters in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, essential workers continue to do their jobs — often at great personal risk to themselves and to their families. Essential workers sustain our ability to live during this crisis, providing critical food, shelter, transportation, and health. They work in a range of industries from healthcare and transportation to social services and public safety. This study describes the experiences of essential workers in Western Massachusetts, providing some of the first survey data to capture the safety and security concerns of these critical workers in the time of COVID-19.

Key Findings: 

  • Over half of all essential workers surveyed— 51%— report that they do not feel safe at work. 

  • Their assessment appears to be warranted: 65% are unable to practice social distancing, 29% did not receive any COVID-19 transmission training, 21% lack masks, 17% lack hand sanitizer, 8% lack regular hand washing, and 16% were asked by their employers to not share their health information with co-workers.

  • 67% of grocery and other retail workers report feeling unsafe at work.

  • Low wage workers (< $20/hour) were 2 to 3 times more likely than high wage workers (>$40/hour)  to lack access to safety measures that reduce the transmission of COVID-19, including masks, hand sanitizer, regular hand washing, and training. 

  • Low wage workers report that they have been unable to meet their family’s food needs (34%), housing needs (9%), and childcare needs (16%) in the last week. 

  • This food insecurity is concentrated among Latino workers: 38% report food insecurity, compared to 21% of white essential workers. 

  • For about half of respondents (52%), work has become more intense. 

  • Only 20% of respondents report receiving hazard pay.

  • Not all essential workers receive paid sick leave (17%). Roughly half report that they are unable to use paid time off if a family member falls ill.

  • Health and safety protections, hazard pay, greater enforcement of municipal ordinances, and protection of workers’ rights to self organize, are critical to improving worker safety.

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