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Posted on: Dec 7, 2020

In a win for employee safety, Cal/OSHA’s new emergency temporary standards to help protect workers from COVID-19 are now in effect, just in the nick of time as the pandemic enters the third – worst – wave.

On November 19, Cal/OSHA’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board voted unanimously to adopt the new standards, giving the Office of Administrative Law 10 days to approve. The approval was given last Monday, November 30, putting the standards into effect immediately.

Under the new rules, which apply to most workers not already covered by Cal/OSHA’s Aerosol Transmissible Disease standard, employers must establish a written COVID-19 prevention plan that includes providing face coverings to all employees and ensuring they are worn.

Under their site-specific plans, employers must also identify and mitigate employee exposure to COVID-19 health hazards through various means, including implementing proper distancing measures, modifying workplaces and staggering work schedules.

With regard to reporting, the standard requires employers to record and report outbreaks to public health departments and to provide COVID-19 testing to employees when there are multiple infections or outbreaks at the worksite.

“These are strong but achievable standards to protect workers. They also clarify what employers have to do to prevent workplace exposure to COVID-19 and stop outbreaks,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Doug Parker in a press release.

The adoption of the emergency temporary standards was the culmination of a months-long effort by a coalition of labor groups led by WorkSafe and others, calling on the agency to create better protections during the pandemic’s early stages. The groups had petitioned for an emergency temporary standard and a permanent standard back in May, and had also provided draft language for the emergency standard.

To assist employers, Cal/OSHA has put together various resources on their website, including FAQs, a one-page fact sheet and a model COVID-19 prevention programs. The agency will also be offering various free training webinars with new dates and times announced soon. A stakeholder meeting, including labor and industry representatives, will be held in December to solicit feedback and recommendations on possible updates.

With the holiday season in high gear and many essential employees risking greater exposure, the new standards couldn’t have come at a better time. Kudos to Cal/OSHA for putting the safety of workers first... and resisting covert efforts to stop them.