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Commonwealth of Virginia Releases First Enforceable COVID-19 OSHA Standard

Commonwealth of Virginia Releases First Enforceable COVID-19 OSHA Standard

As the world struggles to find a new normal during the COVID-19 pandemic, citizens are looking to the state and federal government for answers.  Whereas the federal government and international organizations have provided guidance, the Commonwealth of Virginia, specifically, the Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board recently passed the first COVID-19 occupational safety and health standard that meets and, in some cases, exceeds guidance from OSHA as well as the Center for Disease Control. The emergency temporary standard, which went into effect on July 27, 2020, will expire after 6 months.  It’s important to note that while the federal OSHA guideline is not enforceable, the Virginia occupational safety and health standard is enforceable. 

Virginia, like a handful of other states, is a “state-plan” state, meaning it has been approved by OSHA to develop and implement its own worker safety and health program, which includes both private sector and public sector employees. Virginia’s actions may be a signal to the many other “state-plan” states, such as California and Washington, to do the same.

Virginia’s COVID-19 standard exceeds current OSHA guidance documents to the force of law. It requires all employers, among other things, to:

  • Assess the workplace for COVID-19 hazards and classify tasks according to the risk of exposure;
  • Develop and implement policies and procedures for employees to report COVID-19 symptoms;
  • Develop and implement policies for employees with a known or suspected case of COVID-19 to return to work;
  • Ensure that employees observe physical distancing;
  • Clean and disinfect certain workplace areas; 
  • Control or close access to common areas, such as breakrooms or lunchrooms.

While the standard formally does not consider cloth face coverings as PPE, they are required in certain situations, such as when employees have customer-facing jobs or unable to physically social distance.

There are job tasks that are classified as “very high” or “high” that require different considerations. These employers must also develop and implement a written infectious disease preparedness and response plan within 60 days of the effective date of the standard. This also applies to employers with “medium” risk job tasks and 11 or more employees.

Fines for violations could range from $13,000 to $130,000, and these would increase for repeat offenders, with the threat of closure for severe cases. To keep up with the ever-changing regulations and policies, it is important to have an experienced Industrial Hygienist as part of your COVID-19 re-entry support staff.