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COVID-19 pandemic: Virginia closer to adopting emergency temporary standard

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Photo: Virginia Department of Labor and Industry

Richmond, VA — The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Codes Board on June 24 voted to approve the adoption of an emergency temporary standard on infectious disease prevention amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a virtual meeting that reportedly lasted more the seven hours, the board adjusted language in the proposed standard – including setting an effective date of July 15 – before voting 9-3 in favor of the ETS, with two members abstaining, according to TheHill.com.

“This is an important first step towards the protection of workers during this public health crisis, and we urge the members of the committee to continue to pass meaningful and positive standards that will promote job safety, protect workers and protect our community,” a statement from Virginia AFL-CIO President Doris Crouse-Mays, posted on the labor union’s Twitter account, reads.

DOLI developed the ETS in response to an Executive Order signed May 26 by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) directing the department to “control, prevent and mitigate” the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.

The standard is designed to “supplement and enhance” current occupational safety and health law, rules, regulations, and standards on COVID-19-related hazards such as those dealing with personal protective equipment, sanitation, respiratory protective equipment, access to employee exposure and medical records, hazard communication, and on-the-job exposures to hazardous chemicals in laboratories.

 

The standard is slated to expire within six months of its effective date, when superseded by a permanent standard or when repealed by the board.

Similarly, Oregon OSHA announced in a tentative timeline released June 26 its intention to develop emergency temporary standards to address worker safety amid the pandemic, and then expand them into a permanent standard on infectious diseases. Both standards would be adopted Sept. 1, under the proposed timeline.

Despite being pushed to issue an ETS on infectious diseases via multiple petitions and lawsuits from worker advocacy groups, federal OSHA officials have consistently reiterated the agency’s position to instead use existing rules – including its General Duty Clause – to protect workers during the pandemic.

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