RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia could be the first state to create mandatory COVID-19 safety regulations for all businesses. On Wednesday, Virginia’s Safety and Health Codes Board decided emergency standards or regulations should be passed.

Among the proposed rules for businesses, social distancing and hand-sanitizer could be mandatory in the workplace. The other very specific emergency COVID-19 regulations proposed by state safety regulators included requiring employers to put up physical barriers, conduct health screenings before shifts and notify employees within 24 hours if a co-worker tests positive for the coronavirus.

Supporters say enforceable regulations will empower workers to speak out for their safety while opponents argue the proposed rules are far-reaching.

“Frankly these regs are a little bit of overkill,” said Nicole Riley. Riley is state director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses which represents 6,000 small businesses around the state ranging from retailers and restaurants to auto-body shops and light manufacturing.

Riley told 8News the rules being considered Wednesday by Virginia’s Safety and Health Codes Board are rushed, one-size-fits-all mandates, that lack input from the business community.

“It doesn’t take into account, across industries, you have different businesses,” she explained. Riley says while six foot distancing maybe be possible for some businesses, for others like dental hygienists, it would be impossible.

Yet, Virginia has no set safety standards for dealing with COVID-19 and the complaints have been pouring in. Our sister-station WRIC has been investigating coronavirus complaints in the workplace for months.

8News has now uncovered Virginia’s safety regulators are now formally investigating more than 500 complaints, including 11 COVID-19 related deaths in the workplace. In addition, VOSH, The Virginia Occupational Safety and Health, has received an additional 3,300 calls and emails from employees with concerns about their safety amid the pandemic.

Still, Riley believes VOSH and the Virginia Department of Labor already has the authority to hold violators accountable. She says, “We feel that they already have a lot of tools.”

Riley also believes most businesses have made safety a priority. “Many of them have put in place a lot of controls and protocols that have been recommended by the CDC,” she told 8News.

If the proposals are approved, an infraction could carry a hefty fine for employers anywhere from $13,000 to $130,000 for repeat violations. Virginia’s Safety and Health Codes Board will hold another meeting to discuss proposals.

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