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December 15, 2021
California board weighing COVID-19 ETS renewal

The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board meets December 16 to consider readoption of the state’s COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (ETS). The ETS, originally adopted in November 2020, was readopted June 17 and expires January 14, 2022.

Under California administrative law, emergency standards remain in effect for 180 days, but the board may twice readopt temporary standards for an additional 90-day period each. If the board approves readoption, it would be the final extension of the ETS.

California does have a permanent airborne transmissible disease (ATD) standard for infectious disease exposures in correctional and healthcare facilities and emergency services. On June 21, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a COVID-19 ETS for healthcare facilities and healthcare support services. On November 5, the agency issued an ETS that would compel employers with 100 or more employees to implement a program of COVID-19 vaccination or regular testing and face coverings to protect unvaccinated workers, but the rule is under an indefinite judicial stay while the 6th Circuit appeals court in Cincinnati considers challenges to the rule.

The proposed California ETS being considered for readoption does not include OSHA’s vaccination and testing mandate.

The California standards board is considering a revised version of the COVID-19 prevention ETS. The proposed text retains the requirement to develop and implement a written COVID-19 prevention plan based on hazard identification and evaluation. The prevention program should utilize hazard controls, including engineering and administrative controls, cleaning and disinfection, and personal protective equipment (PPE).

The rule also would require employers in the state to:

  • Evaluate how to maximize indoor ventilation with outdoor air; the highest level of filtration efficiency compatible with existing systems; and whether the use of portable or mounted high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration units, or other air-cleaning systems, would reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
  • Establish procedures for investigating and responding to workplace COVID-19 infections.
  • Make COVID-19 testing available at no cost during paid time for employees who had a close contact in the workplace with a diagnosed or suspected case of COVID-19.
  • Provide a program of instruction and training about COVID-19; the company’s prevention program; and any federal, state, or local COVID-19 benefits.
  • Provide face coverings for employees who are not fully vaccinated, and ensure face coverings are worn indoors and in vehicles.

The ETS would require employers to exclude COVID-19 cases from the workplace and employees who have had close contact. However, the proposed text for readoption would add exceptions, such as:

  • Fully vaccinated employees who wear a face covering and maintain a 6-foot distance from others for 14 days after the last date of close contact;
  • COVID-19 cases returning to work who have remained free of symptoms for 90 days after the initial onset of COVID-19, as long as they wear a face covering and maintain a 6-foot distance from others for 14 days after the last date of close contact; and
  • COVID-19 cases returning to work who never developed symptoms if they wear a face covering and maintain a 6-foot distance from others for 14 days after the last date of close contact.

The board also is considering readoption of temporary standards for multiple COVID-19 infections and outbreaks, major COVID-19 outbreaks, and prevention in employer-provided housing and vehicles.

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