Northam Considering Proposal to Make Workplace COVID-19 Requirements, Including Making Masks Permanent

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The Virginia Safety and Health Codes board voted on January 13 to make the COVID-19 Emergency Standard permanent, according to a notice at the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall. The proposed permanent standard still needs approval from Governor Ralph Northam.

The standard is similar to the emergency standard currently that expires on January 27, and among other things, requires employers to classify different job types by risk level, implement specific contingency plans for workplace COVID-19 outbreaks, and requires masks to be worn in areas where social distancing is not possible.

At a hearing on January 5, industry spokespeople spoke to the board.

“The language in this proposal is, to my assessment and experience, filled with provisions that are not workable and do not have benefits that outweigh the cost,” Leading Edge Policy and Strategy lawyer Nandan Kenkeremath said. Kenkeremath said the overlap between federal workplace safety standards, Northam’s executive orders, and the proposed standard are confusing to businesses who had to comply with the regulations.

“It’s the obligation of the board and the governor and [the Virginia Department of Health] to ask what are they asking the regulated community to do,” Kenkeremath said. “The bottom line is that it’s very, very hard to do some of these things.”

Labor group Virginia AFL-CIO President Doris Crouse-Mays said adopting the standards would help businesses survive by protecting consumers and workers.

“With these standards in place, there is an increase in consumer confidence, because customers will not just feel safe but know they are safe as they frequent their favorite businesses,” she said.

In a written comment from December, Harrisonburg Community Mennonite Church Pastor Jennifer Senseni thanked the board for proposing making the standard permanent.

“Employers have a moral responsibility to protect their workers from COVID-19 and without these standards we cannot assume that employers will do all they can to protect workers,” she said.

Many commenters opposing the permanent standard were from the construction industry, and used near-identical wording.

For example, Virginia Asphalt Association President Trenton Clark wrote in January, “I oppose adopting a Permanent Standard for Infectious Disease Prevention: SARS-CoV-2 Virus That Causes COVID-19, 16VAC25-220. The proposed permanent standard has no specified end date and is based on a temporary standard for a temporary health crisis for which there are now 2 vaccines distributed to Virginia with over 90% efficacy and several more candidates are nearing the end of their trials.”

Clark added, “The standard is burdensome, obsolete, difficult to enforce, costly in time and money, and lacks flexibility to adapt to current science and innovation; I and our Association are STRONGLY OPPOSED to the adoption of a Permanent Standard, with no expiration, for what is a temporary health situation.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network.  Email tips to [email protected].
Background Photo “Virginia Capitol” by Martin Kraft. CC BY-SA 3.0.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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