Breaking with federal requirements set by OSHA, Virginia is the first state to impose an emergency temporary standard that establishes requirements for employers to control, prevent, and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 among employees. Regulations include closing, or tightly controlling access to, common areas like breakrooms and lunchrooms; ensuring that employees observe physical-distancing protocols; and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces at least once at the end of each shift. Violators face fines that could reach over $13,000 for a single offense and over $130,000 for “willful and repeat” violations.
In a break with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Virginia became the first state to adopt an emergency temporary standard (ETS) for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the Environmental, Health and Safety Daily Advisory reported. Virginia’s COVID-19 ETS applies to every employer in the state, unlike California’s Airborne Transmissible Disease (ATD) standard, which only applies to correctional facilities, funeral homes and mortuaries, hospitals and other healthcare facilities, and public services.
The ETS establishes requirements for employers to control, prevent, and mitigate the spread of SARS-CoV-2 among employees, the Daily Advisor reported. The ETS takes effect as soon as it is published in a Richmond, Va., newspaper, with the exception of the standard’s training requirements, which take effect 60 days after the rule’s effective date. The ETS expires within six months, upon expiration of the governor’s state of emergency rule, or when it’s repealed by the Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board or superseded by a permanent standard.
Most employers in the state must develop infectious disease preparedness and response plans once the rule becomes effective, the Daily Advisor reported. Violating the ETS may result in a maximum penalty of $13,047, but “willful and repeat” violations could result in fines of up to $130,463.
The ETS contains provisions for exposure assessments and determinations, notification requirements, and employee access to exposure and medical records. Requirements for all employees and employers mirror some of the guidelines for businesses issued by OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Daily Advisor reported. For example, common areas like break rooms and lunchrooms must be closed, or their access must be tightly controlled. Employers must ensure employees observe physical distancing protocols. Frequently touched surfaces must be cleaned and disinfected at least once at the end of each shift, using disinfecting chemicals and products listed in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) List N for use against SARS-CoV-2. Employees should wear cloth face coverings in situations when physical distances of six feet cannot be maintained.
The ETS contains more stringent requirements of “very high,” “high,” or “medium” exposure risks, the Daily Advisor reported. “Very high” exposure risk means potential exposure to known or suspected sources of the SARS-CoV-2 virus during aerosol-generating procedures like patient intubation, collecting or handling laboratory samples, and performing autopsies. “High” exposure risk covers a full range of healthcare facilities and services, as well as emergency medical services and medical transport, and mortuaries.
“Medium” exposure risks cover most agriculture, construction, and general industry workplaces, the Daily Advisor reported. Those requirements include engineering controls like adequate ventilation in compliance with American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Standards and placing hospitalized patients with known or suspected cases of SARS-CoV-2 in an airborne infection isolation room.
Employers must install physical barriers like clear plastic sneeze guards to aid in mitigating the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 transmission, the Daily Advisor reported. The standard also incorporates CDC Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) guidelines by reference.
Administrative and work practices controls include screening employees before each work shift for signs and symptoms of COVID-19, the Daily Advisor reported. Employers must limit nonemployee access to their facilities and post signs requesting patients and family members to immediately report symptoms of respiratory illness on arrival at the healthcare facility and use disposable face coverings.
Employers must provide employees with job-specific education and training on preventing transmission of COVID-19, including initial and routine refresher training, as well as offer enhanced medical monitoring of employees during COVID-19 outbreaks, the Daily Advisor reported.
To limit density in a facility, employers are expected to offer, if feasible, telework options and staggered work shifts, the Daily Advisor reported. Employers should implement physical distances of at least six feet between employees and between employees and others at the worksite. Employers also must establish personal protective equipment (PPE) and respiratory protection programs that include medical evaluation, fit testing, and training.
Training under the ETS must cover requirements of the standard, signs and symptoms of COVID-19, infection control measures, and the employer’s preparedness and response plan, the Daily Advisor reported.