Virginia extends COVID-19 workplace safety, health standards
Workplace safety and health rules mandating PPE, sanitation and social distancing in Virginia first enacted last year in response to COVID-19 have been extended.
A news release from the office of Gov. Ralph Northam touting the extension used the word “permanent,” before explaining further down that the requirements will remain effective through the end of the pandemic.
The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Codes Board will reconvene within 14 days of the expiration of Northam’s COVID-19 emergency declaration to determine whether there is a continued need for the standard.
The rules, which also mandate infectious disease preparedness and response plans, record keeping, training and hazard communications in workplaces across the Commonwealth were adopted by the Safety and Health Codes Board last week.
Virginia took action last year to create the nation’s first emergency temporary workplace safety and health requirements in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The extended standards align closely with the emergency temporary rules adopted in July and are intended to slow the transmission of COVID-19 and protect Virginia workers.
The temporary standards were effective for six months, and the Safety and Health Codes Board worked to extend them through the process defined in state law.
“While the end of this pandemic is finally in sight, the virus is still spreading, including several highly contagious variants, and now is not the time to let up on preventative measures,” Northam said. “I am grateful to the many businesses and organizations who have been with us throughout this process and continue to take the necessary steps to operate safely.
“These standards will reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure and protect the health and safety of Virginia workers, consumers, and communities as we move our Commonwealth forward together,” Northam said.
“No Virginia worker should have to weigh their family’s economic security against their physical safety,” Chief Workforce Development Advisor Megan Healy said. “These permanent standards provide workers with essential recourse if faced with this untenable decision while giving businesses a clear understanding of the steps they must take to maintain a safe working environment.”
In addition to requiring all public-facing employees to wear masks, the standards ensure ready access to hand sanitizer and the regular cleaning of common workspaces. Employers must train employees on COVID-19 safety and to develop infectious disease and preparedness response plans.
The new regulations include guidelines for returning to work and communicating about employees who test positive and potential exposures.
The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry will enforce the standards.
After receiving a complaint, the department works with the employer to be compliant with no further investigation. If serious concerns arise in the fact-finding interviews or the department receives multiple complaints, a formal investigation will be launched.
The department has received more than 13,000 complaints around workplace safety due to COVID-19, with 100 needing full investigation due to serious concerns and 27 employers being cited.
“These scientifically based standards will help keep Virginia’s workers and their families safe during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Ray Davenport said. “We look forward to working together with the business and labor communities to achieve compliance and safe workplaces across the Commonwealth.”
At least six other states have adopted comprehensive COVID-19 workplace safety standards in the months since Virginia’s first-in-the-nation emergency temporary standard went into effect.
On Jan. 21, President Biden signed an executive order directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue guidance for employers on keeping workers safe and preventing COVID-19 exposure by March 15.
Workers who feel unsafe in their workplace can file a formal complaint with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration here.