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While the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has yet to issue enforceable guidance for protecting workers from COVID-19, Virginia became the first state to create its own emergency temporary standard, and at least one state hopes to be not far behind.
Although 12 other states have created some enforceable protections for workers through executive orders, Virginia’s standards — adopted Wednesday — are the most comprehensive, said Debbie Berkowitz, Washington-based director of the National Employment Law Project’s worker health and safety program.
“Some states may have a few stronger provisions than the Virginia (emergency temporary standard) for some protections, but Virginia’s ETS is the most comprehensive,” she said in an email.
The Virginia standards, which were developed by the Virginia Department of Labor and Industries at the behest of Gov. Ralph Northam, were approved in late June by the state’s Safety and Health Codes Board. They mandate the use of appropriate personal protective equipment in the workplace, and have enforceable guidance on sanitation, social distancing, infectious disease preparedness and response plans, record-keeping, training and hazard communications.
“Workers should not have to sacrifice their health and safety to earn a living, especially during an ongoing global pandemic,” Gov. Northam said in a statement. “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.”
“Workers and our unions will continue to advocate for a federal standard that protects all working people, private and public, no matter where we live,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement.
California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Washington have all created protections for workers. In Massachusetts, for example, the state’s Department of Public Health developed a mandatory workplace safety standard, and violations are expected to carry $300 fines with a cease-and-desist for repeat offenders. Washington State businesses face penalties of up to $10,000 for violating the rules promulgated by the state’s Department of Labor and Industries. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer required via an executive order that all companies with on-site employees create COVID-19 preparedness and response plans, among other safety protocols, proposing fines topping $70,000 for violations.
Oregon, which has some protections in place, announced plans in June to create an emergency temporary standard, and the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration said it will introduce its proposed standard next week, with the expectation that a new rule would be in place by Feb. 22, 2021.
The Virginia emergency temporary standard, infectious disease preparedness and response plan templates and training guidance are posted on the state’s Department of Labor and Industry website.
More insurance and workers compensation news on the coronavirus crisis here.
The Virginia Workers Compensation Commission announced Tuesday that it has closed and will remain so until further notice as a precautionary measure after an employee began exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.