How are Essential Cleaning Workers Staying Safe?

Source: Andriy Popov - 123RF

While most businesses are in lockdown and people practicing social distancing, some workers are not. Among those most at risk of COVID-19 are janitors, domestic workers, housekeeping, and office cleaning crews.

How are those workers staying safe?

Cleaning staffs are on the front lines of fighting this global pandemic, as they are responsible for deep cleaning, disinfecting and scrubbing the surfaces and areas that are hosts of potentially dangerous germs and viruses.

Many of them work with elderly individuals as a part of their jobs, and many of them are also immigrants—which puts them at another, complicated risk of infection from the new coronavirus.

According to OH&S, America has some 4.4 million janitors and domestic workers who are fighting to “flatten the curve” of the virus. As the article explains, a large majority of these workers are of an immigrant population, and they work for large institutions, third-party service contractors and domestic labor platforms.

Many domestic workers, furthermore, are self-employed—caring not only for a house but the people who live in it, young or old.

Demand for cleaning workers has grown. Offices, schools, transit systems, malls, restaurants, and other businesses are now seeking anti-viral scrub-downs, and help-wanted ads for cleaners are expected to go up 75 percent in March.

In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency recently released a list of effective disinfectants to fight COVID-19.

According to the article, some workers worry that the already dangerous chemicals they’re being asked to use are potentially harmful to a person’s health. One janitor said her colleagues experienced skin and eye irritations from a powerful, hospital-grade disinfectant sprayed by a special cleaning crew that serviced the property. Virex—a cleaning agent that is also being used against the coronavirus—can also cause rashes and burns.

There are currently no OSHA standards in place to make sure domestic workers aren’t coming to work when it might endanger their health.

Julie Kashen, the senior policy advisor for the National Domestic Workers Alliance said that “If domestic workers get sick, many will also find it harder to take time off, which introduces a risk of infecting the families they care for or the families they leave at home. Of the 2.5 million domestic workers in the country, 82 percent do not have sick leave.

Kashen added: “Worker’s compensation coverage is slim and varies by state, and unemployment insurance is nonexistent.”