In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Virginia’s Safety and Health Codes Board has adopted emergency temporary standards governing occupational health and safety (“Standards”) that will affect Virginia’s healthcare providers. The new Standards, which go into effect this week and will remain in effect for at least six months, are now available on the Department of Labor and Industry website.
The Standards supplement existing requirements established under the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health (VOSH) Program and include requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE); respiratory protective equipment; sanitation; access to employee exposure and medical records; occupational exposure to hazardous chemicals in laboratories; and hazard communication, with the most stringent requirement applying in the event of a conflict between the Standards and existing VOSH regulations. Although the Standards apply to all Virginia employers, for healthcare providers, the requirements are more onerous and require a documented assessment of risk, a written plan, and training.
In general, the Standards require employers to assess the exposure risk in the place of employment and classify each job task according to the hazards employees are potentially exposed to as either “very high,” “high,” “medium,” or “lower” risk levels of exposure. The assessment should address all risks and all modes of transmission including airborne transmission, as well as transmission by asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic individuals. The exposure risk level is based upon an assessment of the possibility that an employee could be exposed to the hazards associated with SARS-CoV-2 virus and the COVID-19 disease.
- “Very high” exposure risk includes employees engaged in job tasks with high potential for employee exposure to persons known or suspected to be infected with the SARS-CoV-2 Virus (or samples collected from such individuals).
Observation: Included in this category are medical or laboratory procedures that involve “aerosol-generating procedures,” such as including intubation, cough induction procedures, and some dental procedures, as well as collecting or handling specimens (among other items), each involving persons known or suspected to be infected with COVID-19.
- “High” exposure risk includes employees engaged in job tasks with high potential for employee exposure inside six feet with known or suspected sources of SARSCoV-2, or persons known or suspected to be infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus (including physical and mental health services to patient, resident, or other person known or suspected to be infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus).
Observation: The Standards expressly include in this category healthcare delivery and support services, field hospitals, skilled nursing, outpatient medical services, clinical services, home health care, rehabilitation services, primary and specialty medical care, dental care, COVID-19 testing services, and chiropractic services (among other items), each involving persons known or suspected to be infected with COVID-19.
- “Medium” exposure risk includes employees in job tasks that require more than minimal occupational contact inside six feet with other employees, other persons, or the general public who may be infected with SARS-CoV-2, but who are not known or suspected to be infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Observation: Under the Standards, employees in the healthcare industry who are not involved in providing care to persons known or suspected to be infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus will be in this category. This includes employees of drug stores and pharmacies; veterinary settings; hospitals, other healthcare (physical and mental) delivery and support services setting, skilled nursing facilities; home health care, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, memory care facilities, and hospice care; rehabilitation centers, doctors’ offices, dentists’ offices, and chiropractors’ offices, emergency medical services providers, and medical transport personnel.
- “Lower” exposure risk includes employees in job tasks that do not require contact inside six feet with persons known to be, or suspected of being, or who may be infected with SARS-CoV-2. Employees in this category have minimal occupational contact with other employees, other persons, or the general public, such as in an office building setting; or are able to achieve minimal occupational contact through the implementation of engineering, administrative and work practice controls (e.g., physical barriers, staggered work shifts, telework/remote delivery of services, physical distancing, use of face coverings for contact inside six feet).
All employers must implement policies and procedures that are intended to protect employees from workplace exposure to COVID-19 summarized in our prior article. The Standards address engineering controls, administrative and work practice controls, personal protective equipment, and job-specific education and training on preventing transmission of COVID-19 with increasing requirements as the risk increases.
For healthcare providers whose employees incur “medium”, “high”, or “very high” exposure risk, the workplace hazard assessment must be documented with a written certification. In addition, a written infectious disease preparedness and response plan must be implemented within 30 days, and specified training must be provided to all employees within 60 days.
For assistance in complying with Virginia’s new COVID-19 workplace safety standards, please contact OFP Attorney Brian Abbott at 703-218-2130 or OFP Shareholder Marina Burton Blickley at 703-218-2111.