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Virginia employers will soon face fines for failing to comply with guidelines to protect workers from COVID-19 after the state’s Safety and Health Codes Board voted Wednesday to create an emergency temporary standard.
The standard will essentially require employers to comply with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, in conjunction with the CDC, issued guidance for employers in May on protecting workers from COVID-19, but compliance with the guidance is voluntary.
In late April, the Virginia Department of Labor and Industries received a petition from labor groups seeking an emergency regulation to address COVID-19 workplace hazards. On May 26, Gov. Ralph Northam directed the department to develop emergency temporary standards for occupational safety that will protect employees from the spread of COVID-19 in their workplaces enforceable through civil penalties and business closures.
The emergency standard creates mandatory requirements for employers in three different COVID-19 exposure risk levels. All employers are required to assess their workplaces for exposure hazards, implement policies for employee reporting of coronavirus symptoms and positive tests and removal of workers with symptoms from the worksite for 14 days, observe social distancing, require personal protective equipment, create a sanitation and disinfecting plan and provide training for workers on the requirements of the standard. High-risk employers are also required to consider engineering controls to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure and provide respiratory protection for employees. However, the board noted that workplaces that comply with all OSHA/CDC guidelines will be considered to be in compliance with Virginia’s standard.
Employers who fail to comply with the standard may be fined $13,047 for a single violation, $130,463 for willful and repeat violations and $13,047 per day for failing to abate the risk. Employers may receive reduced penalties based on the size of their workforce, but the minimum penalty is $600.
The department received more than 3,400 comments on the temporary standard during the comment period and noted in its briefing that the emergency temporary standard was necessary “to protect Virginia employees from the spread” of coronavirus.
The board is expected to vote on the final content of the emergency temporary standard on June 29 and it is slated to take effect July 15.
More insurance and workers compensation news on the coronavirus crisis here.
The National Safety Council is calling on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to “immediately” create an emergency standard for workers facing COVID-19 exposure, the Itasca, Illinois-based organization said in a statement Thursday.