After first requiring that mask, social distancing and other protections against the Covid-19 virus, the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (Cal/OSHA) reversed those positions during an early June special meeting to return to their previous guidance on these matters.
The reality is that the Standards Board ran into a buzzsaw, powered by the Governor’s office and an uprising from business and citizen groups tired of the neverending war on an enemy that is in full retreat, with cases, hospitalizations and deaths near zero at press time.
In a press release issued after the reversal, the agency asserted the new approach was “The changes adopted by the Board phase out physical distancing and make other adjustments to better align with the state’s June 15 goal to retire the Blueprint.’
Without these changes, the original standards, would be in place until at least October 22. These restrictions are no longer required given current record low case rates and the fact that state administered 37 million vaccinations, covering 71 percent of all adults.
The revised emergency standards will go into effect no later as soon as they are approved by the Office of Administrative Law, usually within ten calendar days. Some provisions go into effect starting on July 31, 2021.
The revised standards are the first update to Cal/OSHA’s temporary COVID-19 prevention requirements adopted in November 2020.
The Board may further refine the regulations in the coming weeks to due to changes in circumstances, especially as related to the availability of vaccines and low case rates across the state.
The standards apply to most workers in California not covered by Cal/OSHA’s Aerosol Transmissible Diseases standard. Notable revisions include:
- Indoors, fully vaccinated workers without COVID-19 symptoms do not need to wear face coverings in a room where everyone else is fully vaccinated and not showing symptoms. However, where there is a mixture of vaccinated and unvaccinated persons in a room, all workers will continue to be required to wear a face covering.
- Outdoors, fully vaccinated workers without symptoms do not need to wear face coverings. However, outdoor workers who are not fully vaccinated must continue to wear a face covering when they are less than six feet away from another person.
Physical Distancing: When the revised standards take effect, employers can eliminate physical distancing and partitions/barriers for employees working indoors and at outdoor mega events if they provide respirators, such as N95s, to unvaccinated employees for voluntary use. After July 31, physical distancing and barriers are no longer required (except during outbreaks), but employers must provide all unvaccinated employees with N95s for voluntary use.
Prevention Program: Employers are still required to maintain a written COVID-19 Prevention Program but there are some key changes to requirements:
- Employers must review the California Department of Public Health’s Interim guidance for Ventilation, Filtration, and Air Quality in Indoor Environments.
- COVID-19 prevention training must now include information on how the vaccine is effective at preventing COVID-19 and protecting against both transmission and serious illness or death.
Exclusion from the Workplace: Fully vaccinated workers who do not have COVID-19 symptoms no longer need to be excluded from the workplace after a close contact.
Special Protections for Housing and Transportation: Special COVID-19 prevention measures that apply to employer-provided housing and transportation no longer apply if all occupants are fully vaccinated.
Once approved and published, the full text of the revised emergency standards will appear in the Title 8 sections 3205 (COVID-19 Prevention), 3205.1 (Multiple COVID-19 Infections and COVID-19 Outbreaks), 3205.2 (Major COVID-19 Outbreaks) 3205.3 (COVID-19 Prevention in Employer-Provided Housing) and 3205.4 (COVID19 Prevention in Employer-Provided Transportation) of the California Code of Regulations. Pursuant to the state’s emergency rulemaking process, this is the first of two opportunities to readopt the temporary standards after the initial effective period.
The Standards Board also convened a representative subcommittee to work with Cal/OSHA on a proposal for further updates to the standard, as part of the emergency rulemaking process. It is anticipated this newest proposal, once developed, will be heard at an upcoming Board meeting. The subcommittee will provide regular updates at the Standards Board monthly meetings.