The Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board, in a split vote on July 15, 2020, passed a first-in-the-nation standard to address COVID-19 in workplaces.

Virginia, like 27 other states, operates its own occupational safety and health program under an OSHA grant known as a “State Plan”. The plan is administered by the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health (VOSH) program. VOSH will enforce the emergency standard which will take effect upon publication in July and is set to expire within six months or upon expiration of the Governor’s State of Emergency or the enactment of a permanent standard. The standard covers most private employers in the state of Virginia, as well as all state and local employees.

The standard requires employers to determine the exposure risk level for each job task that their employees perform and tailor their COVID-19 protections based on the exposure risk level. The required protections range from mandatory personal protective equipment, engineering controls, and mandatory training.

Notably, employers with hazard or job tasks classified as “very high,” and “high,” and employers with hazards or job tasks classified as “medium” with 11 or more employees, must develop and implement a written infectious disease preparedness and response plan. Employers have 60 days from the effective date of the standard to develop and implement the required plan.

Additionally, the standard requires 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; and
  • Maintain air handling systems in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions and American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) standards.

The standard protects employees who raise reasonable concerns about infection control to print, online, social or other media. 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 re-opening plans certified by the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) and public school divisions that submit re-opening plans to the Virginia Department of Education.

VOSH will enforce the new emergency standard in a similar fashion to their normal compliance actions. Employers found to be in violation may be subject to fines on a scale from $13,000 to over $134,000 depending upon the nature of the violation.  VOSH has also indicated that it may exercise their power to suspend an employer’s operations if necessary, to ensure employee safety. CLICK HERE for additional information on this announcement.

Reach out to the team at Exponent EHF for assistance with ergonomics, safety and risk management programs at your workplace! [email protected]  

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