Virginia Adopts Emergency Workplace Safety Standards for COVID-19 Pandemic
The Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board has adopted emergency temporary standards intended to help protect workers in the state from the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19. The new standards—the first of their kind in the United States—require all employers in the state to mandate social-distancing measures and face coverings for employees in customer-facing positions and when social distancing is not possible. Virginia’s standards mandate appropriate personal protective equipment, sanitation, social distancing, infectious disease preparedness and response plans, recordkeeping, training, and hazard communications in workplaces across the state. Employers must provide frequent access to handwashing or hand sanitizer and regularly clean high-contact surfaces. Other requirements for all employers include notifying the Virginia Department of Health of all positive tests for COVID-19 and notifying the Department of Labor and Industry of “hot spots,” which the regulation defines as three COVID-19 positive tests within a two-week period.
The standards became effective on July 27 and will remain in effect for six months. A press release from the office of Virginia Governor Ralph S. Northam explains that the standards can be made permanent through a process defined in state law. During a July 29 online discussion facilitated by AIHA, Courtney Malveaux, an employer representative on the Safety and Health Codes Board, said that the standards grew out of an effort to secure protections for workers in the meat, seafood, and poultry processing industry, who have experienced high levels of disease in plants across the U.S. Malveaux was joined online by Travis Parsons, the Board’s labor representative.  The standards require employers to conduct hazard assessments for all job tasks and impose different requirements for workplaces at four different risk levels: low, medium, high, and very high. Low-risk workplaces are defined as those in which workers are not required to come within six feet of individuals with known or suspected cases of COVID-19. Medium-risk workplaces are those that require more than minimal contact with others within six feet. Workplaces in the high-risk category include those such as medical providers, medical laboratories, and morgues, which must handle infected individuals or samples, Parsons said. Very-high-risk workplaces are those where specific medical, postmortem, or laboratory procedures are performed with specimens from an individual who is known or suspected to be infected with SARS-CoV-2. The protocols for high- and very-high-risk workplaces are identical, Parsons said, and include ensuring that air-handling systems are installed and maintained according to the manufacturer’s specifications.  When feasible, high- and very-high-risk employers must provide psychological behavior support for employees. “The mental health and psychological aspect of this virus is just as much if not more of a problem for workers,” Parsons said. Malveaux suggested that some members of the board were skeptical of the regulation. “It was not something that the board necessarily marched together in lockstep on,” Malveaux said, adding that he did not fully embrace the standards but supported efforts to make them workable for employers. Parsons was more upbeat about the regulation. “It really offers some clear rules rather than guidelines to follow,” he said. “This is a very good standard. It’s a programmatic standard, and not a one-size-fits-all.” Visit DOLI’s website for further details.
The new standards require all employers in the state to mandate social-distancing measures and face coverings for employees in customer-facing positions.