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November 19, 2021
California standards board weighing COVID-19 ETS readoption

The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (OSHSB) will meet November 19 to consider readoption of a revised COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (ETS).

The board approved an initial ETS in November 2020. Under California administrative law, emergency standards remain in effect for 180 days. The board may twice readopt temporary standards for an additional 90-day period each. On June 3, the board initially approved readoption of a revised ETS, then withdrew the revisions June 9.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) submitted a new set of revisions on June 11 that the board approved at its June 17 meeting.

The OSHSB will consider the second readoption of the ETS on November 19.

Proposed changes include a new regulation title, “COVID-19 Prevention,” and three exceptions to the emergency rule’s scope: employees who work from home, places of employment with one employee who does not have contact with other people, and employers covered under the aerosol transmissible disease (ATD) standard.

The ATD standard applies to correctional and healthcare facilities and emergency services.

A proposed new subsection would allow employers to integrate their written COVID-19 prevention plan into their injury and illness prevention programs or keep their COVID-19 plans as separate documents. The IIPP, like California’s ATD standard and the COVID-19 ETS, is one of the state’s occupational safety and health standards with no corresponding federal standard.

The proposed ETS also contains revised requirements for employee communication. One would ensure employees can provide information to their employers about COVID-19 symptoms, possible COVID-19 exposures, and possible COVID-19 hazards at the workplace without the fear of reprisal. Another would require employers to provide information about accommodating employees with medical or other conditions that put them at increased risk of severe COVID-19 illness. A third would require employers to inform employees of the reason for COVID-19 testing, if testing is required by a local public health department, and the possible outcome of a positive test. A fourth would require employers to communicate information about COVID-19 hazards to employees and other employers, persons, and entities in an employer’s workplace or in contact with it, along with the employer’s COVID-19 policies and procedures.

Other requirements in the draft ETS being considered for readoption include:

  • Identification and evaluation of workplace COVID-19 hazards;
  • Investigating and responding to COVID-19 cases in the workplace;
  • Correction of COVID-19 hazards following infections or outbreaks;
  • Employee training and instruction;
  • Face coverings and physical distancing;
  • Other engineering and administrative controls and personal protective equipment (PPE);
  • Reporting and recordkeeping requirements;
  • Exclusion of COVID-19 cases; and
  • Return-to-work criteria.

The board also is considering readoption of emergency rules for multiple COVID-19 infections and outbreaks, major COVID-19 outbreaks (20 or more COVID-19 cases), prevention in employer-provided transportation, and prevention in employer-provided housing.

California, Michigan, Oregon, and Virginia all established COVID-19 ETSs last year, and Oregon and Virginia established permanent standards earlier this year. On June 21, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a COVID-19 ETS for health care and healthcare support services.

On November 5, federal OSHA issued an ETS requiring employers with 100 or more employees to implement a program of COVID-19 vaccination or regular testing and face coverings to protect unvaccinated workers; that emergency rule was indefinitely stayed November 12 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

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