Key Takeaways

- Results identified differences in occupational sectors and work groups regarding perceived risks toward contracting SARS-CoV-2, efficacy to mitigate exposure risks and confidence in the efficacy of PPE during the pandemic.

- Previous experience in using PPE by way of job occupation has a significant impact on workers’ confidence in the ability of their PPE to protect them from exposure to SARS-CoV-2.

- Role modeling behaviors of management as well as their enforcement of safety and health plans, including the use of PPE, is necessary to garner employee-wide participation in health-protective behaviors.

There is a gap in research associated with emerging infectious diseases and the role that individual perceptions have on attitudes and health-protective behaviors. NIOSH researchers sought to understand healthcare and emergency medical services (EMS) workers’ perceived risks toward SARS-CoV-2 and what factors may significantly influence subsequent health-protective behaviors. Between March and May 2020, 122 healthcare and EMS workers completed an assessment on a mobile safety application provided by their workplace. The results inform organizational practices regarding COVID-19 information sharing. First, it is important that all employees have access to information about respiratory protection as well as organizational resources such as their updated respiratory protection plans that may influence health-protective behaviors at work. Second, messaging for employees with individualistic attitudes may significantly differ and more research should be done to determine whether science-based consensus messages are the most effective risk communication strategy. Introduction

SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes, COVID-19, may put some frontline workers who are employed in healthcare and first responder settings at risk of infection (CDC, 2020a; The Lancet, 2020; Maguire et al., 2020). Although an unknown proportion of these cases may be community-acquired, as of Jan. 13, 2022, the CDC (2020b) had confirmed 852,460 COVID-19 cases among healthcare personnel and 3,385 deaths. Also, prehospital care such as ambulatory calls that require response from firefighters and EMS has increased in population-dense locations. In areas within New York, NY, for example, the number of incident calls received have almost doubled, with dispatchers taking more than 7,000 calls per day (Pilgrim et al., 2020; Watkins, 2020). Further, in more rural or suburban areas such as Springfield, MO, emergency calls increased up to 10% in 2021 (Van Schoik, 2022), continuing to put these workers at risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2. Along with the inconsistencies in the availability of PPE for healthcare and EMS personnel early in the COVID-19 pandemic, these workers have experienced significant uncertainty and stress (Kamerow, 2020; WHO, 2020).

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