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January 29, 2021
Virginia issues permanent COVID-19 regulation

Virginia adopted the nation’s first permanent standard for workplace exposures to the SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19. The regulation includes requirements for written preparedness and response plans, as well as cleaning and sanitation, personal protective equipment (PPE), social distancing, training and recordkeeping, and ventilation.

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A temporary federal standard may soon follow. On January 21, President Joe Biden issued Executive Orders directing the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to consider establishing a COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (ETS) by March 15 and issue updated employer guidance within 2 weeks.

Virginia was the first state last year to establish an ETS for COVID-19. California, Michigan, and Oregon established their own temporary standards in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Virginia’s standard became effective January 27 with the publication of a legal notice in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. When COVID-19 emergency declarations issued by Virginia’s governor and commissioner of health expire, the state’s Safety and Health Codes Board will meet within 14 days to determine whether there is a continued need for the standard.

The standard creates four exposure risk levels—very high, high, medium, and lower—that define safety and health requirements employers must implement. Very high-risk work activities include performing aerosol-generating procedures on patients with known or suspected cases of COVID-19, collecting or handling specimens from patients known or suspected to be infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and performing an autopsy on the body of a person known or suspected to be infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

High-risk workplaces include correctional facilities and jails, emergency services, healthcare and long-term care facilities, medical transport, and mortuary services. Medium-risk workplaces include colleges, schools, and universities; construction; meat, poultry, and seafood processing; retail and other services offered to members of the general public; and transportation. Lower-risk work includes occupations with minimal contact with coworkers or the general public.

All employers in the state must perform exposure assessments and may not permit employees or other persons suspected to be infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the workplace. Employers also must develop and implement return-to-work policies for employees with known or suspected cases of COVID-19.

Virginia employers also must develop and implement policies to ensure physical distancing and reduce worksite density.

Employers must use the following hierarchy of hazard controls in work vehicles:

  • Eliminate the need for employees to share work vehicles, arranging for alternative means for additional employees to travel to worksites.
  • Provide access to fresh air ventilation (for example, opening windows), not recirculating cabin air.
  • Establish procedures to maximize separation between employees during travel—setting occupancy limits or sitting in alternate seats—when physical distancing cannot be maintained.
  • Provide employees with respiratory protection, such as an N95 filtering facepiece respirator (FFR), when employees must share work vehicles because no other alternatives are available, ensuring compliance with applicable respiratory protection and PPE requirements (medical evaluation, fit testing, training).
  • Until adequate supplies of respiratory protection and/or PPE become readily available for nonmedical personnel and non-first responders, provide face coverings and require their use.

Face coverings worn over the wearer's nose and mouth and extending under the chin must be worn when employees solely exposed to lower-risk hazards or job tasks have brief contact with others inside of 6 feet. Face shields may not be used in place of face coverings.

Cleaning and sanitation require the use of disinfecting chemicals and products indicated in the EPA List N for use against SARS-CoV-2.

Very high- and high-risk workplaces must meet increased ventilation and air filtration requirements. PPE requirements for very high- and high-risk workplaces include respiratory protection, as well as face shields or goggles, gloves, and gowns. Employers at very high- and high-risk workplaces, as well as employers at medium-risk workplaces with 11 or more employees, must develop and implement infectious disease preparedness and response plans.

The Virginia standard also contains antidiscrimination provisions for employees exercising their rights under the standard.

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