Virginia becomes first state to issue work safety standards for coronavirus

Virginia becomes first state to issue work safety standards for coronavirus
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Virginia adopted statewide emergency workplace safety standards to deal with the coronavirus, making the state the first in the nation to implement such protection measures. 

The Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board voted on Wednesday to adopt the emergency temporary standard on infectious disease prevention, which were drafted under the direction of Gov. Ralph Northam (D).

The Virginia standards include mandating personal protective equipment, sanitation, social distancing, infectious disease preparedness, record keeping and training, and they will be in place for six months.

The rules come in the absence of a federal standard. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has declined to impose a nationwide COVID-19 work safety standard, despite calls to do so from unions, Democrats and worker advocates.

“Workers should not have to sacrifice their health and safety to earn a living, especially during an ongoing global pandemic,” Northam said in a press release on Wednesday. “In the face of federal inaction, Virginia has stepped up to protect workers from COVID-19, creating the nation’s first enforceable workplace safety requirements.”

The standards, which passed by a 9-2 vote with one abstention, also require all employers to mandate social distancing measures and face coverings for employees in customer-facing positions.

If social distancing is not possible, employers are required to provide frequent access to hand washing or hand sanitizer. It also requires employers to regularly clean high-contact surfaces and notify employees within 24 hours if a co-worker tests positive for the virus. 

Employees who are known or suspected to be positive for COVID-19 cannot return to work for 10 days or until they receive two consecutive negative COVID-19 tests. 

“Keeping Virginians safe at work is not only a critical part of stopping the spread of this virus, it’s key to our economic recovery and it’s the right thing to do,” Northam said.

The board is voting on amendments and a final draft should be available soon, according to the governor’s office. To be enacted, these standards must be publicly published in a newspaper, which will happen at the end of July.

The Virginia AFL-CIO celebrated the move, calling it essential.

“We thank Governor Northam and the Safety and Health Codes Board for being bold and making a historical move during these uncertain and unprecedented times by making Virginia the first state in the nation to issue a comprehensive standard to protect all workers from COVID-19,” President Doris Crouse-Mays said in a statement.

The Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board voted in June to move forward with the standards. Fines for violations could range from $13,000 to $130,000, and they would increase for repeat offenders.