Virginia issues first statewide safety standards to address COVID in the workplace

Governor says new rules are response to OSHA's alleged lack of action.

Virginia -- the site of offices for nearly 150,000 federal employees and an even greater number of many government contractors -- has issued its own workforce safety standards in response to COVID-19, as critics continued to rail against the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s perceived lack of urgency regarding the pandemic.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced on July 15 that statewide emergency workforce safety standards would mandate the wearing of personal protective equipment, as well as adoption of sanitation measures, social distancing, and infectious disease preparedness and response plans in workplaces across the state -- along with accompanying record keeping, trainings and communications about the coronavirus.

Northam said the new standards were needed “in the absence of federal guidelines.”

Labor unions and lawmakers have criticized OSHA, the agency responsible for issuing such guidelines, for not releasing an emergency temporary standard specific to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In June, a district appeals court denied the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations’ petition to force OSHA to issue an ETS.

Acting OSHA Administrator Loren Sweatt told members of Congress that the agency was relying on previous voluntary guidance to give it a “nimble approach,” and because the process of drafting binding regulations often takes years.

In a statement, Northam said the new state regulations would require all employers to enforce social distancing measures and provide hand sanitizer and access to hand washing tools when social distancing wasn’t possible.

The standards also would require employers to notify all workers within 24 hours if a coworker tested positive for COVID-19, and those who were known or suspected to have the disease would be barred from returning to work for 10 days or until they twice consecutively tested negative for the coronavirus.

The standards will be place for six months.

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