COVID-19 workplace safety, health rules become permanent Wednesday
Includes some mask mandates, access to hand sanitizer, cleaning
Permanent COVID-19 workplace safety and health rules take effect Wednesday in Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam announced, including standards that require all public-facing employees to wear masks as well as requiring businesses to provide ready access to hand sanitizer and regular common workspace cleaning.
The rules range from appropriate personal protective equipment to sanitation, social distancing, infectious disease preparedness and response plans to record keeping, training, and hazard communications in Virginia workplaces. It also includes 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 permanent standard.
“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 in a statement. “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.”
If the state Department of Labor and Industry receives a complaint, it will work with an employer to help reach compliance without further investigation. If “serious concerns” arise, then the department will launch a formal investigation. So far, the labor department has received more than 13,000 workplace safety complaints related to COVID-19, with 100 requiring full investigation and 27 employers cited.
In July 2020, Virginia became the first state in the U.S. to establish emergency temporary workplace safety and health requirements, which were intended to protect Virginia workers by mandating appropriate PPE, sanitation, social distancing, infectious disease preparedness and response plans. Guidelines also include record keeping, training and hazard communications. The temporary measures were in effect for six months while the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Codes Board worked to make them permanent.
“No Virginia worker should have to weigh their family’s economic security against their physical safety,” Chief Workforce Development Advisor Megan Healy said in a statement. “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.”
Infectious disease preparedness and response plan templates are available through the Department of Labor and Industry, and workers who feel unsafe can file a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.