Virginia First State to Adopt Workplace Safety Standards During Pandemic

Governor Northam speaks during a 2019 Alexandria visit. (Photo: James Cullum/Zebra file photo)

ALEXANDRIA, VA – Virginia is setting an example for the rest of the country. Knowing that residents want to avoid illness from the novel coronavirus and return to work, Gov. Ralph S. Northam (D-VA) recently announced that the state has adopted new workplace safety standards. These standards arrive in the absence of action at the federal level.

The governor said that maintaining safety in the workplace is important for two reasons: to stop the spread and improve the economy. He added that it is the right way to address a critical issue.

“Workers should not have to sacrifice their health and safety to earn a living, especially during an ongoing global pandemic,” Northam said. “In the face of federal inaction, Virginia has stepped up to protect workers from COVID-19, creating the nation’s first enforceable workplace safety requirements.”

The new standards require that social distancing is maintained. In customer service positions, it is mandatory that face coverings are worn when facing customers and when distancing is not possible. Frequent hand washing is a must. When soap and water is not available, employees must have access to hand sanitizer. Surfaces are to be cleaned on a routine basis.

If an employee tests positive for the virus, all other employees must be notified within 24 hours. The person who tests positive can only return to only after meeting one of these two conditions: 1) the employee has stayed at home for a period of 10 days, or 2) received two consecutive negative test results.

The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s (DOLI) Safety and Health Codes Board voted to approve an emergency temporary standard (ETS), following Northam’s direction in May to create enforcement. The standard, which can be seen HERE in draft form, is being finalized. Enforcement can remain in place for six months. It can also become permanent as determined by state law. When finalized, the standard will be available on the DOLI website.

According to documentation, the ETS is expected to take effect sometime during the week of July 27.

A first-time penalty for businesses not following regulations, The Washington Post reported, is $13,000. Repeat offenders can be fined up to $130,000.

“Our workers are our greatest asset,” said Chief Workforce Development Advisor Megan Healy, “and I am confident that these temporary standards will provide Virginians with the peace of mind they need to return to work and fuel the Commonwealth’s economic recovery.”

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