Virginia adopts permanent COVID-19 workplace safety standards

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Published: Jan. 27, 2021 at 1:16 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ/Governor’s Office Release) - Virginia has enacted the nation’s first permanent COVID-19 workplace safety and health standards, beginning Wednesday.

Governor Ralph Northam approved the standard adopted by the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Codes Board. The standards mandate appropriate personal protective equipment, sanitation, social distancing, infections disease preparedness and response plans, record keeping, training and hazard communications in workplaces.

“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.”

There are no standards at the federal level, and so Virginia first enacted temporary emergency workplace health and safety requirements in 2020 in response to the pandemic.

The permanent standards are similar to the temporary ones and are meant to slow the transmission of COVID-19 and protect workers. These standards will remain effective throughout the pandemic, and the Board will reconvene within 14 days of the expiration of Governor Northam’s emergency declaration to decide whether there is a continued need for the standards.

“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.”

According to a release from the governor’s office, the standards will ensure worker access to hand sanitizer and the regular cleaning of common spaces. Employers will be required to train employees on COVID-19 safety and to develop infectious disease and preparedness response plans. The regulations will include guidelines for returning to work and communication 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, according to the release.

“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 COVID-19 workplace safety standards.

The permanent standard for Virginia can be found here. Workers who feel unsafe can file a formal complaint with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration here.

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