Virginia adopts nation’s first COVID-19 workplace safety standards

Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board approved temporary standards Wednesday that enact widespread protections for workers during the coronavirus pandemic, requiring employers across the state to maintain physical distancing, workplace sanitization and information sharing. Virginia is the first state in the country to ensure such protections.

The standards, which will be in place for six months unless repealed or permanent protections are adopted, will vary depending on how each job poses a risk of exposure to the virus. However, there will be a few standards that will be required of all employers.

Social distancing measures, face coverings for employees who must interact with customers or when distancing is not possible, and access to hand washing or hand sanitizer will be mandatory under the new rules. High-contact surfaces must also be cleaned regularly.

“This historic victory will ensure that workers’ health is protected and that businesses are part of the solution to curbing the spread of the virus,” Jason Yarashes, the lead attorney and program coordinator at the Legal Aid Justice Center, said in a statement. “We commend Governor Northam, the Virginia Department of Labor and Industries, and the Board for being leaders on the right side of history in passing this emergency standard.”

The new standards also require that employees be informed if a coworker tests positive for the novel coronavirus within 24 hours and any worker who is confirmed or suspected to be positive cannot return to work for 10 days or until they have two consecutive negative tests.

“Workers should not have to sacrifice their health and safety to earn a living, especially during an ongoing global pandemic,” Gov. Northam, who ordered that workplace regulations be adopted in May, said in a statement. “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. Keeping Virginians safe at work is not only a critical part of stopping the spread of this virus, it’s key to our economic recovery and it’s the right thing to do.”

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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