State laws Workplace exposures

COVID-19 pandemic: Virginia governor directs labor agency to develop emergency workplace standards

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Photo: Virginia Governor Ralph S. Northam

Richmond, VA — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has directed the state’s Department of Labor and Industry to develop emergency temporary standards to “control, prevent and mitigate” the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.

Under Executive Order 63, signed by Northam on May 26, the standards must address personal and respiratory protective equipment, sanitation, recordkeeping, and hazard communication. These standards will apply to every employer, employee and place of employment within the jurisdiction of the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health program.

According to a press release from Northam’s office, the standards will require the approval – by vote – of the Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board. Once approved, the department will enforce them via civil penalties and business closures.

Additionally, the order requires – with some exemptions – all individuals 10 and older to wear face coverings, such as a mask, scarf or bandana, over the nose and mouth when inside certain establishments and public places.

“As more people venture back to businesses, employees are put in a vulnerable position when patrons come in without a face covering,” the order states. “We must make sure workers are safe as they interact with customers.”

Face coverings also will be required for all employees of essential retail businesses “whenever working in customer-facing areas.”

 

“Science shows that face coverings are an effective way to prevent transmission of the virus, but wearing them is also a sign of respect,” Northam said in the release. “This is about doing the right thing to protect the people around us and keep everyone safe, especially as we continue to slowly lift public health restrictions in our commonwealth.”

At press time, the order was set to go into effect May 29, and will remain so until it is amended or rescinded by another order.

On May 28, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management released a Business Reopening Toolkit, which includes checklists and printable posters that can be displayed inside businesses and around public spaces. The resources are available in English and Spanish.

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