New rules designed to protect California workers from COVID-19 in the workplace are now in effect after the Office of Administrative Law recently approved new emergency rules adopted by Cal/OSHA. The rules now have the effect of law and include specific, mandatory requirements for employers to follow to reduce transmission of the virus in their places of work.
The action comes after workers and advocates pressed hard for action by Cal/OSHA as the number of cases surged statewide, and as public health officials warned that virus transmission in workplaces poses a risk not just to workers but their families and communities.
“There is significant potential for transmission of COVID-19 at workplaces, making it critically important for employers to adhere to the workplace protocols that require infection control, distancing, masking, and appropriate PPE for all workers. This is particularly important since after work, many of us go home to family members and other people we live with, some of whom may be at higher risk for becoming seriously ill from COVID-19,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in September.
Workers and advocates praised Cal/OSHA’s swift adoption of the new standards, which gives the agency stronger tools to ensure that employers follow basic protocols, such as maintaining physical distance between workers.
“The emergency temporary standard (ETS) for COVID-19 is based on sound public health principles and the current knowledge on COVID transmission and prevention,” said Worksafe Executive Director Stephen Knight.
The rule is framed around existing requirements on employers, such as the Injury and Illness Prevention Program. It is consistent with the more detailed guidance documents and health orders that have been issued by Cal/OSHA and local and state Departments of Public Health, and with recent state legislation, giving these guidance documents more teeth with a more enforceable standard. Finally, the ETS combines a “performance” standard with specific direction on controls necessary to COVID prevention (e.g. physical distance, face covering, case identification and response).
“We are relieved and delighted at the outcome,” declared Maggie Robbins, Occupational and Environmental Health Specialist with Worksafe. “The people of California need stronger protections from COVID and this rule strengthens protections at work. The challenge now is outreach, education and dialogue to ensure the promise of the standard is realized in practice.”
A broad coalition of 45-plus occupational health and safety organizations, labor unions, worker centers, community groups, and environmental organizations supported the campaign for an emergency temporary standard. With the new rules on the books, they said they will keep pushing for adequate enforcement resources and meaningful ways for workers to specifically object when employers make inadequate safety plans or fail to carry out their written plans.
Nonetheless, the emergency regulation means employers will have specific direction on steps they must take to protect workers from virus spread. It also means Cal/OSHA will have a more powerful tool to enforce safety rules and hold employers accountable.
Worksafe is a California-based nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting people from job-related hazards. For more information, visit www.worksafe.org.