Most US federal staff don’t feel safe from COVID at work, survey finds

By on 25/08/2020
Of the survey respondents, only 56% who require personal protective equipment to do their jobs say their worksites have adequate supplies. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Amouris Coss via flickr).

More than 70% of US federal employees working on-site say their agencies are not doing enough to keep them safe from COVID-19, a survey conducted by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) has found. The results also show that nearly 80% of federal employees who have been working remotely during the pandemic say they would feel unsafe if asked to return to the workplace.

AFGE surveyed nearly 2,200 union members between 5-12 August, of whom 56% reported that they are currently working remotely due to the pandemic, with the rest attending their workplaces.

Of respondents currently working on-site, 73% say they do not believe their agency is taking the precautions necessary to keep them safe. More than 69% say their worksites have a COVID-19 workplace safety plan in place, yet 71% do not believe that health and safety best practices are being followed. And just 56% of employees who require personal protective equipment to do their jobs say their worksites have adequate supplies.

Of respondents working remotely, 79% say they would feel unsafe if asked to return to work. Just over half of respondents (51%) reported that their agency has begun requiring employees to go back to working on-site, and 47% say their employer has communicated a plan for the safe return to workplaces. However, 67% said they do not feel confident that their employer will be able to ensure their safety.

Mental health services

Access to mental health care appears to be patchy, both for on-site and remote working employees. While 59% of respondents who have been teleworking say their agency has offered or made available mental and emotional health services, that figure fell to 46% for those who continue to work on-site.

In a positive finding of the survey, most employees – whether working remotely (72%) or on-site (71%) – report that the pandemic is not disrupting their ability to care for their children or other family members.

AFGE national president Everett Kelley described the overall results as “clear and concerning”. He said they illustrate the “significant issues and concerns” federal employees are facing in performing their jobs safely during the pandemic and that they highlight “the lack of resources and support” being provided by federal agencies.

“Whether they are working remotely or on-site, federal employees believe their workplaces are unsafe and that their agencies are not doing enough to protect them,” he said. “For months, our members have repeatedly called on the administration to include federal employees in decision-making around pandemic protocols to ensure agencies understand the needs of front-line workers, but our concerns have fallen on deaf ears.”

Kelley called for Congress to pass legislation that allows employees to continue teleworking throughout the pandemic; accelerates production of protective equipment; improves oversight of how agencies are adhering to health and safety guidelines; and ensures workers are included in decisions about returning to workplaces through their representatives. 

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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