Blog Post |

How to Know the Covid-19 Risk Level of Your Industrial Job

Dan Johnston

May 20, 2020

Risk levels vary across industries. There are doctors on the front lines, treating patients with Covid-19. Then there are the people working from home and engaging in total isolation. But, for everyone in between, it’s sometimes difficult to know how risky a given job might be when it comes to catching the coronavirus.

how-to-know-the-covid-19-risk-level-of-your-industrial-job

If you’re concerned about your risk and exposure level—especially when searching for a new job in an unfamiliar workplace—you’re not alone. Below we break down the various positives and challenges of different industrial jobs as they apply to staying safe during the coronavirus pandemic. While it’s impossible to pinpoint an exact exposure risk to Covid-19, the more information you have, the easier it is to make an informed decision.

Your exposure risk

First, understand your exposure risk level since this will determine what sort of precautions you and your employer should be taking to maintain a safe work environment. This is particularly important if you are over age 65 or have underlying health conditions like diabetes or a heart condition since you might be at higher risk for more severe illness.

Risk factors by industry

It’s difficult to determine an exact risk assessment since every role within an industry will have different challenges when it comes to safety. But there are some general considerations that we can break down by industry when it comes to risk.

Industry Positives Challenges
Food processing Emphasis on workplace sanitation • Tight quarters (hard to maintain 6-ft distance between workers)

• Difficult to wear masks or alter workstations (e.g. install plexiglass dividers)

Food processing employees are essential workers, vital to maintaining the country’s food infrastructure. And this industry employs hundreds of thousands of people. Nationwide, the meat and poultry processing industry alone employs about 500,000 people.

But working conditions often make it difficult for employees to maintain social distancing of at least 6 ft. So far COVID-19 cases among U.S. workers in 115 meat and poultry processing facilities were reported by 19 states, according to the CDC. Among approximately 130,000 workers at these facilities, there were 4,913 cases. So there is a real risk of spread.

If you’re considering working in food processing, look for employers following CDC recommendations for increased workplace safety. These include:

  • Increased sanitation
  • Physical alterations of the workspace to allow greater distance between workers
  • Use of PPE such as masks and gloves
  • Changes in scheduling to reduce contact between workers
  • Testing of employees to reduce spread of infection
Industry Positives Challenges
Warehouse Ability to lower your risk depending on the role. (e.g. operating an electric pallet jack in a larger pick environment creates natural distancing). High-volume e-commerce and small-item pick settings leads to tight quarters

If you’re looking for an industrial role, chances are you’re considering warehouse work.

With millions of Americans ordered to shelter in place over the last few months, there’s been a huge demand for items to be delivered. So it’s no surprise that shipping and warehouses are one of the main industries looking to hire hundreds of thousands of workers.

Risk factors for warehouse work very much depend on the role you’re applying for and steps the company is taking to reduce risks. Picker roles for smaller items in a high-volume warehouse may make it difficult, though not impossible, to maintain distancing with other workers. But there are other roles that would put you at a much reduced risk, such as operating an electric pallet jack.

If you are considering a job in warehouses look for:

  • Some companies are issuing hourly or one-time bonuses for essential workers on the front lines
  • Companies that provide PPE or masks for all employees (and require employees to wear them).
  • Companies that are following CDC guidelines wherever possible: hand sanitizing stations, reduced employee contact, installing physical plexiglass barriers, etc.
Industry Positives Challenges
Trucking Natural social distancing. Limited contact since most of the day is spent solo in the cab. • Interactions on the route—from deliveries to gas stations—require extra vigilance. 

• More challenging to engage in frequent handwashing on the road. 

• Potential to fall sick while far away from home.

Trucking is perhaps the industry that best lends itself to natural social distancing. Drivers spend most of their day solo in their cab, though this limited contact has its own challenges.

Drivers should follow CDC guidelines and take extra precautions to stay safe:

  • Remain vigilant about sanitation, including frequent handwashing and wiping down surfaces inside the cab.
  • Limit time spent outside of the truck cab during fueling, loading, and unloading, and at rest and truck stops.
  • Make a plan with your employer and your family as to what to do if you become sick while you’re on the road. Include where to stop, where and how to seek medical advice and treatment, and plans for freight delivery.
Industry Positives Challenges
Manufacturing Many different types of roles with varying levels of transmission. Potential to more easily alter your role if you’re at risk.  • Continued contact for an entire shift

• Interaction with high-touch shared surfaces such as tools  

Manufacturing is a general term that encompasses a wide range of jobs—from a solo CNC machine programmer to an employee working in tight quarters on an assembly line. For this reason, risk level will depend on the specific work you’re doing.

Think about these four factors when determining risk for a specific manufacturing role:

  • Distance between workers: Does a job require you to work closely with other employees on an assembly line? Do you have to get ready in a crowded changing room? The more contact you have people, the higher your risk of infection.
  • Duration of contact: Will you be near other workers occasionally or for an entire shift?  Continued contact with potentially infectious individuals increases the risk of virus transmission.
  • Type of contact: Will you be interacting with shared high-touch surfaces such as tools, workstations, or breakroom tables? Will you need to share transportation such as a shuttle to the work site? Frequently washing your hands when using shared surfaces can help reduce the chances of getting sick.

Other factors to consider

While considering your exposure risk level at work, it’s also very important to keep things in context. Consider:

  • Community transmission in your area: If you’re in a hotspot or a state where there’s widespread community transmission, you will be at higher risk for catching Covid-19 even in lower risk jobs.
  • Steps your employer is taking: Evaluate whether your employer is following recommended CDC and OSHA guidelines to protect workers. Check out our basic guide here.
  • Your own medical risks: If you’re over age 65 or have an underlying medical condition, you could be at higher risk for more severe symptoms.

Dan Johnston

Dan Johnston, Co-Founder & CEO | dan@workstep.com