Virginia Enacts First-in-the-Nation Permanent COVID-19 Workplace Safety and Health Standards Amid Pandemic
~ Governor Northam approves standard recently adopted by Safety and Health Codes Board, rules are effective beginning today ~
RICHMOND—Virginia’s permanent COVID-19 workplace safety and health rules take effect today, after Governor Northam approved the standard adopted by the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Codes Board last week. The standards mandate 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 Governor 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.”
In the absence of a federal standard, Virginia took action last year to create the nation’s first emergency temporary workplace safety and health requirements in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The permanent standards align closely with the emergency temporary rules adopted in July and are intended to slow the transmission of COVID-19 and protect Virginia workers. The temporary standards were effective for six months and the Board worked to make permanent through the process defined in state law. These workplace safety requirements will remain effective throughout the pandemic. The Board will reconvene within 14 days of the expiration of Governor Northam’s COVID-19 emergency declaration to determine whether there is a continued need for the standard.
“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.”
In addition to requiring all public-facing employees to wear masks, the standards ensure ready access to hand sanitizer and the regular cleaning of common work spaces. Employers must train employees on COVID-19 safety and to develop infectious disease and preparedness response plans. The new permanent regulations include guidelines for returning to work and communicating about employees who test positive and potential exposures. The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry will enforce the permanent standard.
After receiving a complaint, the Department works with the employer to be compliant with no further investigation. If serious concerns arise in the fact finding interviews or the Department receives multiple complaints, a formal investigation will be launched. The Department has received over 13,000 complaints around workplace safety due to COVID-19, with 100 needing full investigation due to serious concerns and 27 employers being 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.”
At least six other states have adopted comprehensive COVID-19 workplace safety standards in the months since Virginia’s first-in-the-nation emergency temporary standard went into effect. On January 21, President Biden signed an executive order directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue guidance for employers on keeping workers safe and preventing COVID-19 exposure by March 15.
The final permanent standard can be found here. Infectious disease preparedness and response plan templates and training guidance are available at doli.virginia.gov. Workers who feel unsafe in their workplace can file a formal complaint with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration here.