Recently, a new study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) examined the differences in workplace exposure to COVID-19 among non-healthcare workers. Specifically, the study focused on those who worked outside of the home. In brief, the study found that one in five workers who participated reported workplace exposure to COVID-19. The state of the COVID-19 pandemic has changed significantly since its beginning in early 2020. Accordingly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its COVID-19 guidance in August 2022 to match the most recent COVID-19 data.

Background of the Study

NIOSH researchers conducted the study across six states: California, Georgia, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Participants consisted of individuals who worked outside of the home in non-healthcare settings and were diagnosed with COVID-19 between September 2020 and June 2021. In sum, the study collected data from 1,111 participants between the ages of 18 and 64.

Researchers asked participants about their exposures to other individuals with COVID-19 and where those exposures occurred. Participants had the option to state whether the exposure occurred in the workplace or outside of work. Researchers also noted the specific occupation and type of industry in which the participants worked. Finally, researchers collected information regarding any COVID-19 prevention policies or practices in place at participants’ workplaces.

Findings on Non-Healthcare Workplace Exposure to COVID-19

NIOSH published its study in Clinical Infectious Diseases. According to the study, workplace exposure to COVID-19 was common among participants. Meanwhile, different exposure across different jobs and industries can help determine which groups are most at risk outside the healthcare industry. Notably, the study found that:

  • 4% of participants reported workplace exposure to COVID-19, while 23.4% reported exposure only outside of work, and 57.2% reported an unknown source of exposure.
  • 8% of participants who worked in protective service occupations (e.g., police, firefighters, and security guards) reported workplace exposure to COVID-19.
  • 7% of participants who had close contact with more than 10 coworkers and 28.8% who had close contact with 10 or more members of the public per day reported workplace exposure to COVID-19.

In the end, researchers discovered that workers might experience varying risks of exposure to COVID-19 under different work characteristics. In other words, a participant’s occupation, industry, and job duties determined such risk factors as:

  • how physically close to others participants are at work,
  • their potential exposure to infectious agents (one of the six common workplace hazards), and
  • whether they regularly interact with the public.

NIOSH technical information specialist and lead author of the study, Hannah Free, stated that “These results highlight the differences in exposures among different worker groups, which can help identify populations with the greatest need for prevention interventions.”