Dear Members of the Safety and Health Codes Board:
I write to you to register my strong opposition to making the COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard permanent for the following reasons:
Practicality. The over-arching concern here is that adopting permanent regulations on COVID makes little sense when the science is evolving and CDC guidance continues to change. Making these standards permanent at this stage is simply not practical as there is a very real likelihood that much of what employers are going to be required to follow “indefinitely” will be obsolete or shown to have no impact whatsoever on the virus.
Engineering controls. Even employers with medium risk employees are to ensure their air-handling systems comply with American National Standards Institute/American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers Standards, which include requirements for outdoor air ventilation in most residential and nonresidential spaces. These ETS standards are likely going to be in a constant state of change considering CDC’s evolving guidance. Some of these changes are not supported by the science and that is what should guide these standards.
CDC deference. The ETS does not give enough leeway to the fact that science and health information about the virus is changing. If the ETS simply deferred to CDC by stating that if employers are in compliance with CDC guidance, then they are in compliance with the standard, that should suffice. But instead, the ETS only references the CDC when the CDC guidance is equal to or more stringent to ETS regs.
“Place of Employment.” The ETS requires employers notify VDOLI if they have three positive test cases in a “place of employment’ within 14 days. The ETS also requires employers to notify all employees at the “place of employment” within 24 hours of a positive test case. This idea of a “place of employment” is undefined. The concept of a “place of employment’ is a vague concept, especially where employees may be working at different job sites day to day or may go weeks without interacting with other employees at another part of a facility. There is also a concern with employers with contractors (not technically their employees), at certain job sites as well.
Unintended consequences with VOSH. The ETS states that it “is designed to supplement and enhance existing VOSH laws, rules.” However, there are some industry-specific concerns considering construction employees who are already complying with specifics as to PPE for their line of work. ETS imposes rules like, “[w]hen multiple employees are occupying a vehicle for work purposes, the employer shall ensure compliance with respiratory protection and personal protective equipment standards applicable to the employer's industry.” This could be read to require a new N95 mask each day construction employees share common vehicles. That simply cannot be an intent of the ETS, but it could be the technical interpretation.
Third-party contractors. Obtaining information out of the other companies working on the same project can be a challenge when it comes to conducting contact tracing. If Companies A, B, C, and D all have employees working on a construction project, and an employee of Company D tests positive or experiences symptoms, it can be difficult for this information to make its way to Companies A, B, and C, who all have liability and responsibility with regard to engaging in immediate contract tracing. Thus, there needs to be some protections for those employers whose employees are essential and are intermingling with employees of other employers to get their job done but are stymied by limited immediate communication.
Presumptive Positives. The symptoms of COVID-19 overlap with and are very similar to other common illnesses, such as the common cold and flu. However, the definition in the ETS regarding guidance of any cold/flu like symptoms is to first assume a "Presumptive positive" for COVID. This means that an employee experiencing symptoms must immediately quarantine for 10 days or until a doctor provides a written note stating that it is not a COVID concern, which doctors currently are hesitant to do. This affects use of the employees’ sick/vacation leave, impacts productivity, and fosters an environment where employees could be hesitant to report symptoms or use leave.
Employee Count. The ETS makes a broad general classification of Risk for Construction companies based on numbers of employees, not specifically on the type of construction or type of project sites for the employees involved. As an example, a road construction site that is miles long with 50 employees spaced out in normal construction practices is very Low risk, but the company would be defined under a Medium risk classification.
Negative impacts of face coverings. There are additional risks and safety concerns created by the broad use of face coverings with employees where the risk is low and social distancing is easily achieved. Face coverings easily fog up safety glasses and create a larger safety hazard to the employee. In hot weather, face coverings contribute to the potential for heat-related illnesses and worker discomfort. Face coverings also muffle the employee’s voice and eliminate the visual interpretation of the person speaking. Each of these situations can affect overall worker safety.