THE Cal/OSHA Standards Board is set to vote on a permanent COVID-19 workplace safety standard on Sept. 15, that would take effect at the start of 2023.
The permanent standard will replace the temporary emergency standard that took effect in 2020 after the pandemic started and which is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2022. The new standard will continue requiring employers to establish, implement and maintain an effective Illness and Injury Prevention Program that includes provisions for COVID-19 in the workplace.Many of the requirements in the proposed permanent standard are the same as what’s currently in place.
It’s important for employers to understand the requirements to not only keep their employees safe and reduce the risk of spread in the workplace, but also to avoid fines or penalties for failing to follow the standard. Here are the main changes to be aware of:
For the purposes of deciding which of your workers has come into “close contact” with an employee who may have had COVID-19 while at work, the proposed standard defines close contact as sharing the same indoor space for a total of 15 minutes over a 24-hour period, regardless of if any of them were wearing face coverings.
This new definition is less specific than the current definition of being within 6 feet of the infected person, meaning that workers in the same room or sitting around the same table, regardless of distance, could be considered in close contact.
Under the proposed standard, once an employer learns that an employee was at work with COVID-19, they will be required to providenotification to other employees or independent contractors who had close contact with the infected worker “as soon as possible.” That’s different from the current requirement of notifying them within one day of learning of the infection.
It’s likely Cal/OSHA will continue using the one business day standard, as that should be ample time for an employer to receive notice of a case in the workplace and subsequently send out a notification.
There is no rule for requiring masks in the workplace, expect for staff who were infected with COVID-19. Once they can return to work, the proposed standard requires that “regardless of vaccination status, previous infection, or lack of COVID-19 symptoms, a
COVID-19 case shall:
• Wear a face covering in the workplace until 10 days have passed since COVID-19 symptoms began or,
• If they had no symptoms, 10 days since their first positive test.
The proposed rule defines a “major outbreak” as 20 or more employee COVID-19 cases in an exposed group. If anyone visited such a worksite during their infectious period within a 30-day period, Cal/OSHA is calling for testing and reporting.
Reporting and record-keeping
Employers will still be required to report a major outbreak to the local health department. It also would require employers to retain for two years confidential records of all COVID-19 cases and close contacts. Upon request, these records would have to be provided to the local health department, the California Department of Public Health, Cal/OSHA or the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Elimination of exclusion pay
The proposed permanent standard does not require employers to provide “exclusion pay” to staff who cannot go to work because they have COVID-19, are sick or have to isolate, reversing the current rule.
As mentioned, the Cal/OSHA Standards Board will vote on the draft permanent standard on Sept. 15, and it’s unlikely it will make any changes to it. That means the new permanent standard will take effect Jan. 1, 2023.
With that in mind, employers should review their COVID-19 prevention program to make sure it comports with the new standard. Also, revisit your record-keeping to ensure that you comply with the record-retention rules.