California Looks to Ease Certain COVID-19 Workplace Regulations

The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (OSHSB) will meet at 10 a.m. PDT June 3 to consider readoption of a revised COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (ETS). A new proposal would ease certain workplace precautions on July 31.

California and COVID-19

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The board met on May 20 to consider readoption of a proposal submitted May 7 by the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA). However, Cal/OSHA Deputy Chief Eric Berg sent a memorandum on May 19 asking the board to delay its vote after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new public health guidance recommending that those who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear face coverings or maintain physical distances.

Berg asked for time for the agency to prepare a new proposal for the board. At the board’s June 3 meeting, it will consider a new proposal submitted on May 28.

Under Cal/OSHA’s proposal, employers still would be required to develop and implement written COVID-19 prevention programs. Elements of the plans would include means of communicating the employers’ plans to employees, assessment and identification of COVID-19 hazards, procedures for investigating and responding to COVID-19 cases in the workplace, providing COVID-19 testing at no cost to employees, correcting COVID-19 hazards, and providing employee instruction and training.

Six-foot physical distancing requirements would remain in place until July 31 in indoor workplaces and large outdoor events. Employers must provide face coverings when required by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) or local health department. There is an exception when an employee is alone or all employees in a room are fully vaccinated and have no COVID-19 symptoms.

The CDC considers people fully vaccinated 2 weeks after the second dose of the 2-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines or 2 weeks after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Businesses and employers are responsible for communicating to nonemployees when face coverings are required. California employers also are responsible for developing policies and procedures to protect employees from COVID-19 hazards caused by any person not wearing a face covering, including members of the public.

Required engineering controls include mechanical or natural ventilation, or both, to maximize the quantity of outside air provided, except when doing so would expose occupants to cold, heat, or pollution hazards (an EPA Air Quality Index (AQI) greater than 100 for any pollutant).

The ETS proposed for readoption still includes cleaning and sanitation requirements for commonly touched surfaces and shared tools and equipment and a requirement to assess a need for additional hand-washing facilities.

Employers also would need to assess personal protective equipment (PPE) needs, including the need for face shields, gloves, or goggles, to control COVID-19 hazards. Providing respirators for COVID-19 protection requires compliance with the state’s respiratory protection program standard.

The standard proposed for readoption would still contain recordkeeping and reporting requirements. Cal/OSHA also proposed the readoption of standards for multiple infections and outbreaks, major outbreaks, and protections in employer-provided housing and transportation.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) submitted text of a federal COVID-19 ETS to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) on April 26. That rule still is undergoing regulatory review. The OIRA currently has meetings about the ETS scheduled through June 7.

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