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Virginia Passes First-In-Nation Safety Standard for COVID-19

Jul 16, 2020

The Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board has passed the country's first standard to address COVID-19 in workplaces. Virginia is a state-plan state that operates its own occupational safety and health program, and the new standard covers most private employers in Virginia, as well as all state and local employees.

“Virginia Occupational Safety and Health, the state’s version of OSHA, will now enforce a standard that mandates — and in some instances exceeds — guidance issued by CDC and OSHA,” says Courtney Malveaux, a member of the Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board and an attorney with Jackson Lewis in Richmond, VA

In addition to CDC and OSHA guidelines, Malveaux, who is also government affairs chair for ASSP’s Colonial Virginia Chapter, explains that provisions in the Virginia emergency standard require employers to:

  • Provide flexible sick leave policies, telework and staggered shifts when feasible.
  • Provide both handwashing stations and hand sanitizer when feasible.
  • Assess risk levels of employers and suppliers before entry.
  • Notify the Virginia Department of Health of positive COVID-19 tests.
  • Notify VOSH of three or more positive COVID-19 tests within a two-week period.
  • Assess hazard levels of all job tasks.
  • Provide COVID-19 training of all employees within 30 days (except for low-hazard places of employment).
  • Prepare infectious disease preparedness and response plans within 60 days.
  • Post or present agency-prepared COVID-19 information to all employees.
  • Maintain air handling systems in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions and ANSI and American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) standards.

“The standard also protects employees who raise reasonable concerns about infection control to print, online, social or other media,” Malveaux adds. “It also requires building and facility owners to report positive COVID-19 tests to employer tenants.”

The standard exempts private and public institutions of higher education with reopening plans certified by the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia and public-school divisions that submit reopening plans to the Virginia Department of Education, Malveaux says, but provides no such exemptions to private elementary and secondary schools.

The standard also contains provisions that echo CDC and OSHA guidance, which Malveaux notes includes requirements to:

  • Place requirements on workplaces based on hazard levels (i.e., “very high,” “high,” “medium” and “low”).
  • Screen employees prior to entry to work.
  • Establish requirements for employees with COVID-19 positive tests and symptoms before returning to work.
  • Require social distancing or, when social distancing is not possible, respiratory protection.
  • Clean and disinfect commonly used areas and equipment.

The emergency standard will take effect upon its publication in late July and is set to expire within six months or upon expiration of the governor’s state of emergency declaration or the enactment of a permanent standard.

Related links
Virginia Emergency Temporary Standard
ASSP COVID-19 resources
Pandemic Challenges: How to Return to Work Safely
OSHA Updates COVID-19 Resources Guide

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