COVID-19 impact on occupational health
Learn how worker safety and health is impacted by COVID-19.
As a worker, you have a right to a safe and healthy workplace. The Occupational Health Program at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services has a mission to provide resources that inform workers and employers of their rights, responsibilities, and ways to address existing and potential workplace hazards.
To file a complaint about your workplace or employer, visit the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website.
Potential workplace hazards
Each workplace has certain hazards that are risks to health and safety. Workplace hazards are anything that can cause harm, damage, or negative impacts on health to people in a workplace. Below are categories of hazards that can be found in the workplace.
Chemical and dust hazards
Many workplaces have various chemicals, some of which may be hazardous materials. Chemicals can take different forms—dust, vapor, liquid, or gas. You may come into contact with, or be exposed to, these chemicals while doing your day-to-day job tasks.
- Silica dust can cause permanent damage to the lungs in the form of silicosis. Learn more about silicosis and what workers can do to prevent it by reading Silicosis: What Workers Need to Know, P-03262, available in English, Spanish, and Hmong.
- Chemicals and particle hazards can be breathed in, leading to Occupational Respiratory Diseases, like silicosis, asbestosis, chemical pneumonitis, and biodusts and aerosols.
- Carbon Monoxide. Read information on carbon monoxide exposure and health effects from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
- Trichloroethylene (TCE). Learn about the hazards of Trichloroethylene, or TCE, use in the workplace and how to protect your health when using it.
- Lead Hazards. Visit our Adult Lead Program's For Workers and All Adults page to learn more about lead exposure in the workplace.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards can be used as a resource to learn about health and safety precautions associated with specific chemicals.
Biological hazards include insects, animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, and viruses that can be harmful to your health. Examples include poisonous snakes and spiders, mosquitos, mold, and blood and other bodily fluids.
- Blastomycosis is an illness caused by small fungi found in some soils and dirt. Read Blastomycosis: Employers and Workers, P-03246 (available in English, Hmong, and Spanish) to learn more about this uncommon, but serious illness.
- Poison Ivy. Watch this video from the NIOSH.
People who work outdoors are often exposed to biological hazards. Learn more about hazards to outdoor workers.
Physical hazards are characteristics of the physical workplace environment that can cause harm to employees without having to touch them. This includes loud noise exposure, radiation, and long periods of time spent in the sun/ultraviolet rays and extreme temperatures (cold and hot).
- Heat stress and cold stress in the workplace. Read these fast facts from the NIOSH on heat stress and cold stress.
- Noise and hearing loss. You can check the noise level using this sound level meter app from the NIOSH for your mobile device.
Safety hazards are the most common. Safety hazards are general unsafe conditions that can cause injury, illness, or death.
- Inadequate lighting
- Spills and tripping hazards
- Working from heights (ladders, scaffolds, roofs, or any raised work area)
- Unguarded machinery and moving machinery parts that can be accidentally touched
- Electrical hazards like frayed cords
- Confined spaces
- Other machinery/equipment that can cause harm (saws, blades, forklifts, boilers, ovens, etc).
Ergonomic hazards happen when the type of work, position of the body, and working conditions cause strain on the body. They can be difficult to spot since we don't always immediately notice when something is putting strain on our body. Short-term exposure to ergonomic hazards can cause "sore muscles" the next day or days following exposure. Long-term exposure can result in serious long-term illness or injury.
Example of ergonomic hazards include:
- Workstations/desks and chairs that are too high or low
- Frequent lifting
- Poor posture
- Awkward movements, especially if repetitive
- Repetitive movements
- Using forceful movements frequently
Learn about ergonomic interventions and recommendations for agriculture, construction, manufacturing, and other occupations.
Work organization hazards
Work organization hazards have to do with workload, intensity/pace, and interactions in the workplace. They can cause stress and strain, as well as have a negative impact on a worker's mental health and wellbeing.
Examples of work organization hazards include:
- Unreasonable workload demands
- Workplace violence
- High intensity/fast paced work environment
- Lack of respect
- Lack of worker control or say about things in the workplace
- Low level of social support/relations
Shift work is any shift that happens outside the hours of 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. This can contribute to sleep difficulties. Learn about shift work disorder from the National Sleep Foundation.
Understand your rights
Workers have the right to:
- Work in a safe place and receive safety training in a language that you understand.
- Ask questions if you don't understand instructions or if something seems unsafe.
- Use and be trained on required safety gear, such as hard hats, goggles, and earplugs.
- File a complaint with OSHA. To file a confidential complaint about workplace hazards, visit the OSHA website.
- Provide a workplace free from serious recognized hazards, and follow all safety and health standards.
- Provide training about workplace hazards and required safety gear.
- Promote a safe and healthy workplace, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. Take a look at the guidance document, Preventing and Managing COVID-19 Outbreaks in the Workplace, P-02787 to see what measures your employer should take to prevent and address COVID-19 outbreaks in your workplace.
What you can do to protect yourself
Understand your workplace exposures
Answer these questions to start thinking about your workplace exposures. If you talk to a safety professional or health care provider, take your answers to these questions with you. This is important, because they need to understand what you do and what you work with. Also, you can use this information to look up hazards in the Learn More section below.
- What do you do in your job? What does your department or group do or make?
- What are you concerned about in your workplace? Any information on product name, actual chemical name, or work condition would be helpful.
- For chemicals, what form are the chemicals in: dust, vapor, liquid, or gas?
- How much time do you spend using each thing that you are concerned about in your workplace?
- Do you use any personal protective equipment or other safety equipment while performing your job?
By law, you have the right to receive information on hazards in your workplace and to receive training on how to stay safe.
- Ask your employer or your company's safety officer about the types of hazards for your specific job tasks and how you can stay safe while doing your job.
- If the company has done testing to identify workplace hazards (for example, measuring chemicals in the air), your employer is required to give you a copy of the results if you ask for them.
- If you work with chemicals, your employer should have safety data sheets (SDS) available for all employees to read. Note: SDS used to be called material safety data sheets (MSDS).
Important: SDS may not have the information you need. If you know the name of the chemical, you can look up information for many chemicals on the New Jersey Right to Know Program's Fact Sheets.
Protect yourself from exposure
Use personal protective equipment (PPE) correctly
- If your employer gives you PPE, such as gloves, hearing protection, or a respirator, make sure you are using it and are using it correctly.
- Remember to check your PPE before using it to make sure it is working right.
- Talk to your employer or safety officer if you have questions about how to use your PPE.
- Learn more about PPE use at the NIOSH website.
Follow best safety and health practices
- Learn about best work practices for health and safety, like always keeping chemicals in sealed containers when not in use.
- Follow any safe work guidelines or protocols in your workplace, even if your tasks take a little longer.
- If your employer offers health and safety training, take it.
Protect your home and family
Are you bringing work hazards home with you? Chemicals can come home on your skin, hair, clothes, and shoes, and they can make your car and home unsafe.
Keep a healthy car and home:
- Change clothes and shower before leaving work.
- Keep work clothes out of the living areas of your house.
- Wash work clothes in separate laundry loads from your family's clothes.
Learn more about protecting your home and family on the NIOSH website.
Get help when you need it
Talk to your doctor or health care professional
Not all doctors or health care professionals remember to ask you about your job. If you are concerned about your health, tell your doctor:
- What kinds of work you do.
- What kinds of hazards are in your workplace (for example, chemicals, noise, heat, shift work, lifting heavy objects).
- Anything specific you are worried about or have questions about.
If you and your partner are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, ask your health care professional if there is any part of your job you should not do during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Talk to a health and safety professional
If you have more questions, or if you have multiple hazards in your workplace:
- Talk to your safety officer.
- Visit CDC-INFO or call 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636).
- Contact the Wisconsin Occupational Health Program.
- Contact the NIOSH:
If you think your job is affecting your health or the health of your family, the NIOSH can help. A Health Hazard Evaluation is a free service from the NIOSH that will give you or your employer advice about what kinds of health hazards might be in your workplace and how to make your workplace safer. Employers, employees, or union officials can request an evaluation of possible health hazards associated with a job or workplace. For more information, contact the NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluation program.
Information for young workers
Young workers are at high risk for getting hurt or sick on the job. Every nine minutes, a U.S. teen gets hurt on the job.
Just starting a job? Two places to learn the basics:
- The Young Worker's Guide to Working Safely in Wisconsin, P-00990
- OSHA Young Workers website
- The U.S. Department of Labor's Youth Rules! website
- Video: "Teen Workers: Real Jobs, Real Risks (Mallory's Story)" from NIOSH. Find additional safety and health training from NIOSH.
- 2016 Fact Sheet: Childhood Agricultural Injuries in the U.S. (PDF) Statistics on injuries, but also prevention resources and ideas from the National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety in Marshfield, Wisconsin.
- University of California's Labor and Occupational Health Program's Young Workers Project
- Massachusetts' Occupational Health Surveillance Program Resource for Young Workers YES Team website
Resources about asbestos and mesothelioma
- Facts about asbestos
- Asbestos information for teachers and school workers from the American Federation of Teachers
- Information about asbestos standards and worker rights and safety from OSHA
- Expert information about asbestos exposure at work available by calling CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636).
Help for specific situations and questions
- Information on CDC-INFO, Wisconsin Occupational Health Program, and the NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluation Program can be found in the Getting Help section above.
- The New Jersey Right to Know Hazardous Substance Fact Sheets: Good information on workplace chemicals including PPE. Many are in English and Spanish.
- Find more information on PPE at the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory from NIOSH. Contact email@example.com for additional questions.
- Argonne National Laboratory's Safety Gloves Selection Guide: Information on safety gloves and a selection guide.
- All About OSHA: Fast facts about OSHA.
- OSHA Worker Rights and Protections including when and how to file a complaint.
- What are the hazards in this job? Hazard information by industry and occupation.
- How do I protect myself against specific hazards? Workplace safety and health topics.
- Work and reproductive health webpages: pregnancy and breastfeeding and men’s reproductive health.
Occupations and work-related conditions
- Workplace asthma: You Don't Have to Wheeze at Work is a blog post including an infographic on workplace asthma.
- Toolbox talks: Resources for short informal meetings among workers focused on construction safety – in English and Spanish
- How to stay safe on the job (PDF): An infographic for EMS providers.
Selected text adapted with permission from the NIOSH.
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