RICHMOND, Va. -- This week, Governor Ralph Northam announced the adoption of statewide emergency workplace safety standards.
The measure is the first in the nation. Governor Northam says it’s all in an effort to protect Virginia workers. Businesses who violate the policies could face financial penalties up to $130,000. Sacrificing health and safety to earn a living is something the governor says workers across the commonwealth should not have to do.
“At the end of the day we want businesses to be safe and we want businesses to be thriving. Moving forward with an issuance of fines over fines over fines, won’t be beneficial to the workforce at the end of the day. So the whole goal is to compel businesses to recognize the risks and recognize hopefully some easy solutions that they can put in place,” Dr. Anthony Harris said. Harris is the Chief Innovation Officer for WorkCare. The organization works with companies on workplace safety issues.
The new safety standards prohibit employees suspected of having COVID-19 from reporting to work. They also require all Virginia employers to mandate social distancing and face coverings for employees in customer-facing positions. When social distancing isn’t possible, companies must provide frequent access to hand washing or hand sanitizer and regularly clean high-contact surfaces. They also require all employees to be notified within 24 hours if a coworker tests positive for Covid-19.
Dr. Harris says Virginia’s temporary standard on infectious prevention is significant in the absence of federal guidelines. He expects other states will follow suit.
“We’re going to see it play out in other states. Now, the speed of that—who knows. But we know the urgency is there in terms of trying to protect workers and offer safe working environments” Harris explained.
Governor Northam said “Keeping Virginians safe at work is not only a critical part of stopping the spread of this virus, it is key to our economic recovery and it’s the right thing to do.”
C. Ray Davenport, the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry said: “The Commonwealth’s new emergency workplace safety standards are a powerful tool in our toolbox for keeping Virginia workers safe and protected throughout this pandemic.” He added that many employers have already enacted these evidence-based practices. “We are committed to working collaboratively with those who have not to ensure they are in compliance with the new emergency temporary standard,” Davenport added.
The emergency temporary standards, infectious disease preparedness, and response plan templates, and training guidance will be posted on the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry website at www.doli.virginia.gov. Workers who feel unsafe on the job can file a formal complaint with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The rules will be implemented in the next few weeks and will be in place for six months.