Workplace health and safety hazards faced by informally employed domestic workers in the United States.

Theodore, Nik, Beth Gutelius, and Linda Burnham.

Workplace Health & Safety 67, no. 1 (2019): 9-17.


Informally employed domestic workers encounter a range of workplace hazards, though these have been poorly documented and are typically left unacknowledged. Safety concerns include exposure to toxic cleaning products, a high prevalence of ergonomic injuries, and inadequate access to medical care. Presenting the results of an in-person survey of 2,086 informally employed nannies, housecleaners, and caregivers in 14 U.S. cities, this article documents the range of common health and safety hazards faced by domestic workers and suggests some interventions that could improve their working conditions. The survey was conducted in nine languages and data were collected from workers from 71 countries, including a substantial proportion with irregular immigration status. We observed that substandard workplace health and safety conditions are shaped by three aspects of domestic work: long-standing exclusions from federal employment protections, the common disregard of the home as a workplace, and the complexity of care work and the bonds of intimacy that often form through caregiving. Together these factors have served to perpetuate substandard working conditions. Regulatory reforms, as well as worker and employer education, are necessary to improve health outcomes for domestic workers.

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