Cal/OSHA has taken the first step in creating a semi-permanent COVID-19 standard to replace the emergency temporary standard that currently governs workplace coronavirus prevention measures in the state.
On Sept. 17, the workplace safety agency released a discussion draft for permanent COVID-19 regulations to give stakeholders the chance to comment on it before it starts work on writing the regs.
Even though they are “permanent” due to the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and expectations that at some point the pandemic will end, the rules would be subject to renewal after two or three years from the effective date or they would expire if the threat has receded by that time.
During the next few years, Cal/OSHA said it would be working on a permanent general infections disease standard that would apply to future possible pandemics.
Elements of the draft standard
Here’s what the draft permanent standard would do:
- Require that employers follow California Department of Public Health requirements and/or guidance, when available, regarding exclusion of COVID-19 cases and/or close contacts.
- Maintain masking requirements for unvaccinated employees and require employers to provide face coverings for staff when the CDPH requires masking.
- During an outbreak in the workplace, all employees would be required to wear face coverings regardless of vaccination status. Employers would need to provide respirators during major outbreaks to all employees. The testing exemption for fully vaccinated employees during outbreaks would also be removed.
- Eliminate the need for employers to have in place a COVID-19 Prevention Plan, as required in the temporary emergency standard. Instead, employers would be required to address COVID-19 prevention strategies in their Injury and Illness Prevention Plan. That would require employers to assess the hazard in their workplaces, train their employees about those hazards and conduct investigations of outbreaks in the workplace. Training must be documented.
- Require employers to provide N95 respirators to employees who have been identified by a doctor as being at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, regardless of their vaccination status. That’s different from the current temporary standard, which requires employers to provide masks to unvaccinated staff upon request.
- Define a “fully vaccinated employee” to mean that the employer has a copy of their vaccination record that includes the vaccine maker and the date of the last dose. This means that employers cannot just take an employee’s word that they are vaccinated. They will need to see and retain proof of vaccination.
- Require employers to keep COVID-19 vaccination records for two years after the period requiring them to keep vaccination records ends. That means if the rule sunsets in a few years, employers would be required to keep those records for another two years.
- Require that employers provide COVID-19 testing to all employees who have come into close contact with another team member who has tested positive for the virus. Testing must be provided at no cost to the employee.
- Eliminate the provision for paid leave for workers who contract the coronavirus.
- Eliminate rules regarding handwashing and cleaning and disinfecting procedures in the workplace.
If you have been following Cal/OSHA’s emergency temporary standard, you should continue to follow the current requirements.
The new rules simplify the emergency standard and are easier to abide by, particularly concerning the requirement that COVID-19 prevention plans can be included in your IIPP rather than in a separate document. You’ll have to make sure to make that change.