September 20, 2020
Virginia Department of Labor & Industry
600 E. Main Street, Suite 207
Dear Safety and Health Codes Board Members,
On behalf of the Associated General Contractors of Virginia (AGCVA), Virginia’s largest and most influential construction trade organization, we urge you to oppose the adoption of Permanent Safety Standard for Infectious Disease Prevention: SARS-CoV-2 / 16VAC25-220, which will make permanent the current temporary standards for employers in an effort to control, prevent, and mitigate the spread of SARS-CoV-2.
In the wake of a global pandemic, America’s construction industry was deemed essential. Hundreds of Virginia construction companies have remained open and operating throughout 2020. The ability to continue work was in large part due to the sophistication of the men and women who swiftly adapted to new safety measures to protect employees and their families.
The construction industry has spent money beyond their budget and has invested countless hours to keep employees safe. This has included implementing temperature checks, enforcing social distancing, abiding the stay-at-home and return-to-work orders, posting signage, adding sanitary stations, rewriting daily safety procedures, and more. The industry has also complied with all government mandates regarding this pandemic.
The current Emergency Temporary Standards require a one-size-fits-all approach for businesses across the state to implement procedures to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2. Therefore, AGCVA and its members have many concerns with making these standards permanent and respectfully ask you vote to oppose the adoption of the Permanent Safety Standard for these reasons:
Virginia employers have access to guidance and resources from the CDC, VDH, and OSHA to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Certain additional requirements in the proposed permanent standards - particularly the return to work criteria - contradict the other guidance and recommendations. The contradicting guidance becomes even more convoluted in cases where Virginia-based companies have worksites in multiple states. To reduce confusion when deciding which requirements to follow, companies should be able to utilize current nation-wide guidance. This creates a consistent and clear message for all employers to convey through company instituted policies.
Guidance from the CDC and VDH continues to evolve as evidenced by the recent revisions to recovery/return to work guidelines. By adopting these proposed permanent standards, it saddles Virginia’s employers with a standard that may not reflect the latest breakthroughs on the virus. Employers should instead be encouraged to follow the latest CDC guidelines without the need to interpret a permanent standard that could potentially be outdated the moment it is published. This creates hazardous risks for employers and their employees.
While companies make their best effort to comply with guidance or required standards, they still cannot control what employees do after hours during the largest exposure risk. These proposed permanent standards place undue responsibility and liability on employers for actions outside of normal business hours.
Furthermore, adopting a permanent standard for such a specific virus is a dangerous precedent. There is a high probability that this virus will soon be manageable and even preventable. Adopting a permanent standard implies that mandates, including face coverings, social distancing, common area closures, daily pre-screenings, and more will still be required after an available vaccine or more controlled scenario of the virus is in place. A permanent standard on a non-permanent pandemic is an unnecessary model.
The complex requirements of the proposed permanent standard are taking focus away from traditional and serious safety risks. These standards are one-size-fits-all, causing employers to spend an inordinate amount of time interpreting and implementing new procedures. The quest to stay compliant will keep companies from getting fined or shut down, but it comes at the cost of not being able to focus on ongoing core safety risks.
AGCVA represents an industry with a concerted effort focused on the safety and health of its workforce. Providing these companies the flexibility to adopt safety and health policies and procedures that fit each individual situation is the best way to ensure the safety of Virginia’s workers. Creating a permanent standard for a temporary crisis will not make Virginia’s workers safer and will harm business in the process.
The Associated General Contractors of Virginia (AGCVA)
11950 Nuckols Road
Glen Allen, VA 23059