CalOSHA seek to extend COVID-19 workforce regs to 2024

CalOSHA extends non emergency COVID-19 regulations, changes definitions, improves feasibility for California workplaces

TULARE COUNTY – With constant changes to COVID-19 regulations in the past few years, the state plans to set additional regulations for the next two years.

On Dec. 15, the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration, better known as Cal/OSHA, Standards Board voted 6-1 to adopt non-emergency COVID-19 regulations. These include providing masks to employees, reporting an outbreak in cases to authorities and providing COVID-19 prevention training, among other measures.

The vote allows the regulations to continue in a nonemergency manner with minor changes to the current regulations. Nothing is set in stone yet as the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) needs to review and approve the presented text. Once approved, it will remain in effect for two years after the effective date.

According to the California Department of Industrial Relations Division of Occupational Safety and Health, the changes to the regulations will go into effect in the month of January. According to the Chamber, the changes will improve feasibility for California’s workplaces. This means there won’t be too many large changes to what employers, human resource workers and lawyers have already seen.

The regulations will add new provisions aimed at making it easier for employers to provide consistent protections to workers. It will also allow for flexibility if changes are made to California Department of Public Health (CDPH) guidance in the future. The new regulations also include some of the same requirements that are found in the COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS).

There are several changes being made: for starters, employers are no longer required to maintain a standalone COVID-19 Prevention Plan. Instead employers will be required to address COVID-19 as a workplace hazard under requirements found in their injury and illness prevention programs (IIPP). Employers must now include their COVID-19 procedure and how to prevent it as a health hazard in their written IIPP or in a separate document. 

Employers must now report major outbreaks to Cal/OSHA, amongst a handful of additional requirements:

  • Provide effective COVID-19 hazard prevention training to employees. 
  • Provide face coverings when required by CDPH and provide respirators upon request
  • Identify COVID-19 health hazards and develop methods to prevent transmission in the workplace.
  • Investigate and respond to COVID-19 cases and certain employees after close contact
  • Make testing available at no cost to employees, including to all employees in the exposed group during an outbreak or a major outbreak.
  • Notify affected employees of COVID-19 cases in the workplace.
  • Maintain records of COVID-19 cases and immediately report serious illnesses to Cal/OSHA and to the local health department when required.

According to Cal/OSHA, employers also no longer have to pay their employees while they are “excluded from work” as a result of being sick. It instead requires the employer to provide employees with information regarding COVID-19 related benefits. Employees may be entitled to benefits under federal, state or local laws; their employer’s leave policies; or leave guaranteed by contract.

With the regulation changes, there are a few important changes to definitions of “close contact” and  “exposed group.” According to OSHA, close contact is now defined by looking at the size of the workplace in which the exposure takes place. 

According to the California Chamber of Commerce, the change to “close contact” was perhaps the most “profound administrative change” to the regulation. Earlier this year the CDPH made the change to the definition to hinge on the size of the workplace. Now that change is being incorporated into the furthering regulations for the next few years. 

Close contact is now defined – for indoor airspaces of 400,000 or fewer cubic feet, close contact is now defined as sharing the same indoor airspace with a COVID-19 case for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period during the COVID-19 case’s infectious period. For indoor airspaces of greater than 400,000 cubic feet, close contact is defined as being within six feet of a COVID-19 case for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period during the COVID-19 case’s infectious period.

The other change in definition is to “exposed group.” It is now clarified to include “employer-provided transportation and employees residing within employer-provided housing that are covered by the COVID-19 prevention standards.” 

As far as Tulare County’s current numbers go, according to COVID-19: California Case Statistics, the seven day average is 11.4 cases per 100,000, for the seven day period ending on Dec. 13. There have been no COVID-19 related deaths in the county according to the last seven day average. 

With this new two-year regulation approved as a nonemergency regulation, the CalChamber expects that the Cal/OSHA staff who wrote and rewrote the regulation and FAQs will be trying to refocus their efforts on other priorities and will leave this text largely alone.

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