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Virginia Passes the Nation's First COVID-19 Workplace Safety Law

Posted by EHS Insight Staff on July 14, 2020 at 12:18 PM

It’s hard to remember a time when coronavirus wasn’t the heart of our daily lives. That makes it all the more startling that it was only a few months ago.

Even so, the virus has impacted every individual aspect of how we live our day-to-day lives. One of the places with the most significant change is the workplace, where the virus has completely upended our old notion of a safe work environment.

Still, guidance to protect workers from the pandemic has been slow to arrive. Many employers and employees have been left to puzzle it out on their own.

Now, Virginia is changing the status quo, with a new law establishing workplace safety rules for COVID-19. Here’s a look at what the law will entail for employers.

What’s in the Law?

The law is the first of its kind in the nation and reflects an essential lesson: the pandemic still isn’t over, and we need to prepare to deal with it in the long-run.

The law is intended to clarify existing federal guidance and set clear expectations for employers. It focuses heavily on social distancing and cleaning rules designed to protect workers against potential exposure to the virus.

Why was the Law Passed?

The law came in light of frustration from local advocates due to a lack of federal guidance from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The agency has also been criticized for failing to enforce its existing rules intended to protect workplace safety during the pandemic, having issued only a single citation in response to 4,000 safety complaints.

While businesses argued that federal guidelines are sufficient, advocates pointed to the existing COVID-19 cases in the state to argue that those guidelines were not working in Virginia. They further noted that opposition was often coming from business advocates who refused to comply with the state’s mask mandate put in place the previous month.

So, Virginia became the first state to take matters into its own hands after direction from Governor Ralph Northam.

What Does This Mean for Reopening?

Currently, the law will not pause Virginia’s phased reopening process. Quite the opposite – it’s intended to allow the state to continue reopening safely. The key is enforceability, enabling workers to demand safer work environments and feel empowered to speak up knowing that they will get results when they need protection from their employer.

Stay Up to Date on the Latest Coronavirus Developments

The coronavirus pandemic may have changed the way we conduct business, but business still marches on. The key now is to ensure that your business marches on as safely as possible – anything less would be catastrophic for employee health and customer trust.

Make sure to check out our blog for a variety of reporting on the latest issues in the pandemic and workplace safety, like this post on OSHA’s revised COVID-19 reporting or this post on the rise of mobile EHS during COVID-19.

And remember: this pandemic is challenging, and it is frightening, but we’re all in this together.

Topics: OSHA, Regulatory Information, Workplace Health and Safety, Risk Management, EHS Management, Safety Management, Coronavirus

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