COVID-19

COVID-19: Virginia Weighs Setting First Emergency Standard While Agencies Issue Seafood Processing Guidance

A Virginia Department of Labor and Industry board decided June 24 to continue developing what could become the nation’s first emergency standard for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

COVID-19 coronavirus

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COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that can be severe and has reached pandemic levels. The SARS-CoV-2 virus is spreading throughout many communities and is considered a recognized workplace health hazard.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) so far has refused to establish an emergency standard, denying petitions from labor unions and requests from members of Congress.

If Virginia adopts the emergency standard, employers in the state would be required to perform exposure assessments for all jobs and tasks and develop policies and procedures that would be implemented if an employee tests positive for COVID-19. Employers would not be permitted to allow employees with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infections to remain in the workplace.

Employers also would be required to develop and implement policies and procedures for returning employees who have recovered from COVID-19 to their jobs.

The emergency standard also contains requirements from administrative and engineering controls, and cleaning and disinfecting the workplace. Engineering controls would include ventilation requirements employers must meet to prevent infections. Infection control requirements also would include work practices and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Virginia’s standard would codify and enforce many of the recommendations that OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have provided in guidelines issued for employers.

CDC, OSHA Seafood Processing Guidance

OSHA and the CDC, in consultation with the Food and Drug Administration, June 25 released joint coronavirus-related interim guidance for employers in seafood processing, covering both operations in onshore facilities and aboard vessels.

The seafood processing guidelines are similar to those previously issued by the CDC and OSHA for meat and poultry processing.

The agencies recommend that employers:

  • Modify the alignment of workstations, so workers are at least 6 feet apart in all directions;
  • Stagger workers on duty across shifts to limit the number of employees on site at any given time;
  • Add additional clock in/out stations, or stagger times for workers to clock in/out to reduce crowding in those areas;
  • Provide temporary break areas and restrooms, or stagger breaks, to avoid crowding in those areas;
  • Analyze sick leave and incentive program policies to ensure that ill workers stay away from the workplace and are not penalized for taking sick leave if they have the coronavirus; and
  • Screen and monitor workers and create a system for workers to alert their supervisors if they have signs or symptoms of the coronavirus or had recent close contact with a suspected or confirmed case.

When workers aboard a vessel report or have symptoms, supervisors should immediately separate them from others on the vessel. Vessel medical staff, management, and telemedicine providers should discuss the disembarkation of patients suspected or known to have COVID-19 with applicable federal, or state, local, tribal, and territorial public health officials, and port authorities to ensure the safe disembarkation and medical transportation of the patient.

Seafood processing workers may have limited control over their environment in employer-furnished housing and living quarters. Owners/operators should provide basic guidance in languages the workers understand about COVID-19 and steps being taken to prevent transmission in living areas.

In employer-furnished living spaces, the owner/operator should provide dedicated space for sleeping quarters, kitchens, and restrooms for workers with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 to recuperate without infecting others.

OSHA, often with CDC participation, has issued COVID-19 guidance for a number of industries, including construction, corrections, healthcare, manufacturing, retail, and solid waste and wastewater management.