The California Department of Industrial Relations' Office of Administrative Law has implemented new emergency regulations on COVID-19 infection prevention.
The California Occupational Health & Safety Standards Board (Cal/OSHA) approved and adopted the rules as Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) that went into effect on November 30, 2020. These new emergency regulations that apply to most California workers specify the standards that employers must meet to prevent workplace exposure to Covid-19 and protect the employees from the related hazards.
Scope of Coverage of the New Emergency Regulations- who is covered and who is exempted?
The COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (ETS) requires all employers and workplaces to comply with it. However, there are three exceptions:
• Workplaces with only one employee who does not come into contact with other people
• Employees who are working from home
• Employees who are covered by the Aerosol Transmissible Diseases regulation
Main Elements of the ETS
First of all, the employers are required to develop and put into place a written COVID-19 Prevention Program (CPP) in light of the ETS requirements. To assist the employers, Cal/OSHA has developed a model program that employers may use to create their workplace-specific CPP. The CPP must address the following:
• Assessing the worksite for COVID-19 hazards and implementing procedures and protocols to address them
• Bringing into effect policies and procedures to ensure a safe and healthy work environment such as modifying the workplace and installing physical partitions and drive-thru windows, ensuring proper ventilation, strictly adhering to the cleaning and disinfectant protocol, implementing flexible work hours and staggered shifts, providing free of cost testing to employees and providing masks, gloves, face shields, and PPE (where needed)
What's New In the New Regulations?
Although many ETS components seem to be the same as the ones in the existing regulations, some ETS elements are new and are very much obligatory. It's the Assembly Bill 685, which is assumed to make a difference! The bill calls for Cal/OSHA's enforcement of COVID-19 infection prevention requirements by allowing the authorities for
• Issuance of Orders Prohibiting Use
• A quicker issuance of the citations for serious violations related to COVID-19
As of the former, from January 1, 2021, until January 1, 2023, Cal/OSHA is authorized to issue an Order Prohibiting Use (OPU), which allows them to shut down an entire workplace or a specific area within the workplace that exposes employees to COVID-19, while in the latter case, Cal/OSHA can now issue citations without giving employers 15-day notice before issuance, applicable from January 1, 2021, until January 1, 2023.
Some other new obligations for the employers to meet are• employee training about the COVID-19 and its prevention, the safety plans that would be followed at the workplaces, and the benefits the affected employees would be entitled to
• recordkeeping requirements binding the employer to maintain accurate records of COVID-19 cases and related written notifications for a minimum of 3 years
• notifying the local public health agency of all workplace outbreaks (3 or more employees infected) within 48 hours after knowing about the cases
How To Avoid Being Cited
With such serious citations in place with severe consequences, the employers need to be more careful about being compliant with the regulations and provide a safe work environment for the employees. So what can you do to eliminate the chance of a COVID-19 worksite outbreak or that of your employees complaining to the authorities against the unsafe work environment at your facility that may lead to citations? Here is something you can do:
Covid-19 Response Plan
How prepared are you to stop the pandemic's worksite transmission and respond to your employees' evolving health needs? Are you ensuring a safe return to work? As a responsible employer, one must develop the COVID-19 Response Plan detailing the policies and practices according to the Government's regulations to provide a safe and healthy work environment and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The employer must ensure that the plan is practically implemented, rather than filed as just another piece of paperwork. You need to exercise substantial control measures to ensure all checklists are completed regularly.
With an Order Prohibiting Use (OPU) coming into practice soon, A COVID-secure workplace has become the most critical requirement that the employer must meet to avoid the workplace and the business operations facing a shutdown. Identify and assess the hazards that may cause transmission of COVID-19, and take actions to eliminate them or control the risk. How is the seating arrangement? Can 6 feet physical distance be maintained between the employees? Is there a need to place a physical barrier between the workstation? Is there proper ventilation? Are people wearing masks and gloves? Are the cleaning and disinfectant protocols being followed? The employer must take into account all these elements to provide a safe work environment to the employees.
Postings and Signage
A picture is worth a thousand words. Postings and signage are a useful way to create awareness amongst the employees about the precautions that need to be taken to prevent COVID-19. Posting handwashing signs on bathroom walls and placing social distancing signs on the floor outside an elevator or at entrances can create a good hygiene culture and a better understating of the pandemic.
One of the new and essential elements of ETS is employee training related to COVID-19. Now it's the employers' responsibility to educate the employees about CoVID-19 regarding the signs and symptoms, how it spreads, how to keep yourself safe, and how to report to the management if the employees get infected. In addition to it, the employers are also liable to inform the employees about the safety measures to protect employees from the COVID-19 hazards, update them about the COVID-19 related benefits such as paid sick leave and worker's compensation benefits that the affected employees would be entitled to. They are also required to be trained on the importance of wearing masks, frequent handwashing, using hand sanitizers, maintaining social distancing as an essential measure to be taken as safety against COVID-19.