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New study details work-related COVID-19 exposure among non-healthcare workers

november 17, 2022
NIOSH Update:

Contact: Stephanie Stevens

WASHINGTON – A new study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) examines the differences in exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19 among people who worked outside of the home in non-healthcare settings. The study, recently published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, found that one in five workers surveyed reported being exposed to COVID-19 at work.

Workers may experience different COVID-19 exposure opportunities under varying work characteristics. A person’s occupation, industry, and specific job duties determine how physically close to others they must work, whether they are potentially exposed to infectious agents, and whether they need to interact with the public.

For the study, NIOSH researchers partnered with six states—California, Georgia, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—to collect information about workers in non-healthcare settings who were diagnosed with COVID-19 between September 2020 and June 2021. The study includes data from 1,111 survey respondents, ages 18–64.

“We found exposure to COVID-19 at work was common among survey respondents,” said Hannah Free, MPH, NIOSH technical information specialist and lead author of the study. “Despite not being in healthcare, many of the workers that were surveyed who contracted COVID-19 had in-person contact with coworkers or the public.”

Researchers asked participants about their exposures to people known or suspected to have COVID-19 and where those exposures occurred—in the workplace or outside of work. Researchers also collected information about the occupation and industry in which the respondents worked as well as their employer’s COVID-19 prevention policies and practices.

Key findings from the study include:

  • Of the 1,111 survey respondents, 19.4% reported exposure to COVID-19 at work, 23.4% reported exposure outside of work only, and 57.2% reported no known exposure or did not know where they were exposed.
  • Almost half (48.8%) of respondents who worked in protective service occupations, which includes include police officers, firefighters, correctional officers, and security guards, reported being exposed to COVID-19 at work. Many workers in protective service were required to work near members of the public and coworkers.
  • More than one-third (33.7%) of respondents who experienced close contact with more than 10 coworkers and 28.8% of respondents who experienced close contact with more than 10 customers or clients per day reported being exposed to COVID-19 at work.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to collect detailed information about work-related exposures and risk factors from people with COVID-19 employed in non-healthcare settings,” said Free. “These results highlight the differences in exposures among different worker groups, which can help identify populations with the greatest need for prevention interventions.”

NIOSH is the federal institute that conducts research and makes recommendations for preventing work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths. For more information about NIOSH, visit