Virginia enacts permanent coronavirus health, safety standards for the workplace

Coronavirus

RICHMOND, Va. (WFXR) —After Gov. Ralph Northam approved a standard recently adopted by the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Codes, Virginia’s permanent COVID-19 workplace safety and health rules will officially take effect on Wednesday.

According to a statement released by the governor’s office on Wednesday, Jan. 27, the standards require appropriate personal protective equipment, sanitation, social distancing, infectious disease preparedness and response plans, record keeping, training, and hazard communications in workplaces across the Commonwealth.

“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,” said Northam. “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.”

Since there was not a federal standard, Virginia created the country’s first emergency temporary workplace safety and health requirements last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the temporary ruled adopted in July were only effective for six months and the board worked to make them permanent.

The governor’s office says the permanent standards align closely with the emergency temporary rules — except they will remain effective throughout the pandemic — and aim to slow the transmission of the coronavirus and protect Virginia workers.

The board is set to reconvene within 14 days of when Northam’s COVID-19 emergency declaration expires in order to determine whether the standard needs to continue.

In addition to requiring all public-facing employees to wear masks, officials say the standards make sure hand sanitizer is readily accessible and common work spaces are regularly cleaned.

Furthermore, employers are required to train employees on virus safety, as well as develop infectious disease and preparedness response plans.

The new permanent regulations — which will be enforced by the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry — also include guidelines for returning to work and communicating about potential exposures or employees who test positive. 

“No Virginia worker should have to weigh their family’s economic security against their physical safety,” said Chief Workforce Development Advisor Megan Healy. “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.”

After the department receives a complaint, it will work with the employer to be compliant with no further investigation. However, if the department receives multiple complaints or if serious concerns arise during the fact finding interviews, officials say they will launch a formal investigation.

As of Wednesday, the governor’s office says the department has received more than 13,000 complaints revolving around workplace safety due to the pandemic, 100 of which needed to be fully investigated due to serious concerns. In addition, 27 employers have reportedly been cited.

“These scientifically based standards will help keep Virginia’s workers and their families safe during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Ray Davenport. “We look forward to working together with the business and labor communities to achieve compliance and safe workplaces across the Commonwealth.”

Officials say at least six other states have adopted comprehensive COVID-19 workplace safety standards since Virginia’s first-in-the-nation emergency temporary standard went into effect.

In fact, President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Thursday, Jan. 21 to direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue guidance for employers on protecting workers and preventing potential virus exposure by March 15.

Follow these links to check out the final permanent standard, infectious disease preparedness and response plan templates, and training guidance.

If you are a worker who feels unsafe in your workplace, you can file a formal complaint with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration by clicking here.

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