COVID-19 pandemic: Virginia enacts long-term workplace standard
UPDATE: This news brief has been updated with a quote from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.
Richmond, VA — Virginia has become the first state to establish a long-term COVID-19 workplace standard.
The standard went into effect Jan. 27, two weeks after the commonwealth’s Safety and Health Codes Board voted to adopt a more permanent standard and replace an emergency temporary standard that went into effect in July.
Gov. Ralph Northam (D) completed his review of the regulation with no revisions Jan. 22. The standard contains language that allows the Safety and Health Codes Board to convene a meeting and “determine whether there is a continued need for the standard” within 14 days after the governor and state health commissioner declare the end of Virginia’s COVID-19 state of emergency. The standard divides job tasks or hazards into four exposure levels: very high, high, medium and lower. It contains requirements that cover engineering controls, administrative and work practices, and personal protective equipment.
“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 Jan. 27 press release. “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.”
Employers in the very high, high or medium exposure risk categories are required to provide training on COVID-19. Those employers in the two highest categories and those in the “medium” classification with more than 11 employees are required to develop an infectious disease preparedness and response plan.
Employers covered under the regulation are required to “verify compliance” by written certification.
“We are proud of Virginia’s bold leadership from the Virginia Health and Safety Board to the governor’s office, and to all the advocacy groups on protecting workers during the pandemic, but now, more importantly, protecting them once we triumph over COVID-19,” Virginia AFL-CIO President Doris Crouse-Mays said in a press release. “These now permanent standards are what will continue to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by addressing workplace exposures, and honoring the work being done by workers and the risks that they have taken during this pandemic to bring some normalcy to our livelihoods in the commonwealth.”
The National Federation of Independent Business, the Virginia Trucking Association, the Virginia Manufacturers Association, the Virginia Business Coalition, the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, the Virginia Poultry Federation and the Virginia Wineries Association are among the organizations that submitted comments opposing the long-term standard.