The fight to see permanent measures introduced to protect workers from COVID-19 infection has taken a big step forward as Virginia has become the first state in the U.S. to enact a permanent workplace virus rule.
Virginia was a trendsetter last year when it became the first U.S. state to enact a temporary COVID-19 emergency workplace rule. According to Bloomberg Law, the Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board voted 9-4 to approve a permanent measure on January 13, 2021, that will take effect when or before the temporary standard expires on January 26.
The permanent rule will largely mimic the temporary one. That had grouped workers such as medical personnel or cleaning and maintenance workers into categories of high, medium, and low risk of exposure to the virus while on the job. It will also continue to mandate that employers create a workplace infection protection program and train workers on how to comply, as well as setting requirements for social distancing, cleaning, and wearing of face masks.
According to Bloomberg, the board majority rejected an effort by employer representatives to terminate the standard when the governor ends the state’s COVID-19 state of emergency. The main rationale for the rejection was that a permanent rule is badly needed to prevent outbreaks among workers who choose not to be or cannot be vaccinated.
As with the temporary workplace virus rule, employers with workers in high-risk jobs, such as hospital nurses, will have to meet stricter requirements including mandates for ventilation systems. The permanent rule has also added prison guards to the list of high-hazard jobs.
The board also approved several changes to align the permanent measure with the Virginia Department of Health or the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention policies.
For example, the emergency rule required employers to contact the state health department whenever an employee contracted COVID-19. That has now been changed, at the health department’s request, so that employers must contact the state when it records at least two cases within 14 days. That is the health department’s definition of an outbreak.
Since Virginia’s temporary measure, California, Michigan, and Oregon have enacted similar comprehensive standards, while Nevada and Washington use a mix of executive orders and state occupational safety and health rules to set protection requirements.