Construction Officials Critical of Virginia’s New Emergency Safety Standards

Last week, Virginia became the first state to enforce a set of new safety standards in response to rising risks of COVID-19. Construction officials worry the standards are too broad to enforce.

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Last week, Virginia became the first state to enforce emergency workplace safety standards in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The new standards, which were approved on July 15th and went into effect on July 27th, are designed “to control, prevent, and mitigate the spread of [COVID-19]” in the workplace.

The announced standards have already been questioned by a prominent construction safety coalition. The Construction Industry Safety Coalition said in a statement they are concerned the new standards are too broad to be enforced. “The CISC does not believe that evidence supports application of such a wide range of requirements to the construction industry, which has already taken strides to address COVID-19,” it reads.

The emergency workplace safety standards, set to expire in six months, detail a variety of safety procedures and requirements meant to limit the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. Among them:

  • Assessment of workplaces for “hazards and job tasks that can potentially expose employees to … COVID-19.”
  • Development and implementation of polices and procedures for “employees to report when they are experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19, and no alternative diagnosis has been made (e.g., tested positive for influenza).”
  • “Establish a system to receive positive [COVID-19] test reports from employees, subcontractors, contract employees, and temporary employees.”
  • Notification of the Virginia Department of Health within 24 hours of discovering a COVID-19 positive case.
  • Notification of the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry within 24 hours of the discovery of three or more employees present at work “within a 14-day period testing positive for [COVID-19] during that 14-day time period.”
  • Enforcement of social distancing (i.e., staying at least six feet from other persons or separated by a permanent, solid, floor-to-ceiling wall) while on the job and during paid breaks on the employer’s property. If social distancing is not possible given the nature of the employee’s job, appropriate respirators and personal protective equipment must be used.

The CISC’s main issue with these guidelines is the broadly applicable, a one-size-fits-all approach, which it says resulted “in a standard that is cumbersome and not effective at protecting employees.”

Instead, they recommend that any approach to coronavirus-related safety regulation in the construction industry be modeled after the CISC’s own “COVID-19 Prevention, Preparedness, and Response Plan,” which was created last March.

The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry has not yet responded to the CISC’s statement. At this time they are the only state to adopt this sort of emergency standard, although Oregon is also currently developing its own temporary coronavirus safety guidelines. 

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