US workers will use personal protective equipment if their employers give it out, a new study finds.
Researchers from the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health looked at survey answers from 742 non-healthcare, non-remote workers last June who didn’t use PPE at work before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Just 29% used PPE if it was left entirely up to them, the team reported Thursday in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly. More than half of those who used PPE were required to do so by employers. And use doubled if the PPE was provided, they found.
About 30% of workers who were not required to use PPE were provided the equipment by employers, the NIOSH team found, and 45% of those workers used the PPE. That compared to 22% of workers who didn’t use PPE if it wasn’t provided.
The team also found 8% of workers were forbidden to use PPE by their employers. “Overall, lower-income workers were more likely than were higher-income workers to be prohibited from using hazard controls or to be unable to obtain them,” the team wrote.
The team also noted why wearing PPE matters.
“Failure to protect workers from COVID-19 might exacerbate existing health disparities, including those among lower-income populations,” the team said. “Workers with lower incomes are more likely than are those with higher incomes to have preexisting health conditions that might increase the risk for severe COVID-19–associated illness.”
Among those who did not use PPE and other hazard controls in the workplace, 15% were unable to obtain them and 77% said they thought that they weren’t necessary.
Lower-income workers were more likely to be prohibited from use or unable to obtain them, compared with higher-income workers.
“Employers can help protect workers against Covid-19 by requiring and encouraging occupational hazard control use and providing recommended hazard controls, along with other Covid-19 workplace precautions,” said the report.