Virginia Enacts First State COVID-19 Emergency Workplace Safety Standard

Oregon moves toward writing a similar enforceable safety standard and Washington takes a different approach to regulating COVID-19 safety on the job

The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Codes Board voted to approve an emergency temporary standard on infectious disease prevention in response to the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.
The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Codes Board voted to approve an emergency temporary standard on infectious disease prevention in response to the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.
Ziaur Chowdhury from Pixabay

The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Codes Board voted to approve an emergency temporary standard on infectious disease prevention in response to the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. These temporary, enforceable regulations are expected to take effect the week of July 27 and will stay in effect for six months. They can be made permanent through the process defined in state law.

Lexology.com reports that Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been holding stakeholder meetings to develop its own, similar emergency standard. The Washington Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in a simpler manner, by amending the state’s emergency rule (WAC 296-800-14035 in Chapter 296-800 WAC) related to prohibited business activities. This amendment creates a trigger for L&I enforcement where employers violate prohibitions or restrictions on business operation.

Virginia’s new safety rules are written to protect workers by mandating appropriate personal protective equipment, sanitation, social distancing, infectious disease preparedness and response plans, record keeping, training, and hazard communications in workplaces across the Commonwealth.

“Workers should not have to sacrifice their health and safety to earn a living, especially during an ongoing global pandemic,” said Governor Ralph Northam. “In the face of federal inaction, Virginia has stepped up to protect workers from COVID-19, creating the nation’s first enforceable workplace safety requirements. Keeping Virginians safe at work is not only a critical part of stopping the spread of this virus, it’s key to our economic recovery and it’s the right thing to do.”

Newly adopted standards require all employers to mandate social distancing measures and face coverings for employees in customer-facing positions and when social distancing is not possible, provide frequent access to hand washing or hand sanitizer, and regularly clean high-contact surfaces. In addition, new standards require all employees be notified within 24 hours if a coworker tests positive for the virus. Employees who are known or suspected to be positive for COVID-19 cannot return to work for 10 days or until they receive two consecutive negative tests.

 “As a top state for workforce development, it should be no surprise that Virginia is also the first in the nation to establish such a robust set of emergency workplace safety regulations,” said Chief Workforce Development Advisor Megan Healy. “Our workers are our greatest asset, and I am confident that these temporary standards will provide Virginians with the peace of mind they need to return to work and fuel the Commonwealth’s economic recovery.”

“The Commonwealth’s new emergency workplace safety standards are a powerful tool in our toolbox for keeping Virginia workers safe and protected throughout this pandemic,” said C. Ray Davenport, Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry. “Many employers have already enacted these evidence-based practices, and we are committed to working collaboratively with those who have not to ensure they are in compliance with the new emergency temporary standard.”

The emergency temporary standards, infectious disease preparedness and response plan templates, and training guidance will be posted on the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry website at doli.virginia.gov. Workers who feel unsafe in their workplace can file a formal complaint with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration here.

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