Dear Safety and Health Codes Board Members,
On behalf of ColonialWebb (CW), I urge you to oppose the adoption of a Permanent Standard for SARS-CoV-2, which will make permanent the current temporary standards.
In the wake of a global pandemic, America's construction industry was deemed essential. Hundreds of VA 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 health and safety measures to protect employees and their loved ones.
CW has spent money beyond our budget and has invested countless hours to keep our teammates safe. This has included implementing prescreening, engineering our facility, controlling occupancy limits, staggering schedules/breaks, enforcing safe distancing, abiding by stay-at-home and return-to-work orders, posting signage, adding sanitary stations, rewriting daily procedures, and more. We have also complied with all government mandates regarding this pandemic.
The current ETS require a one-size-fits-all approach for business across the state to implement procedures to stop the spread of SARS-Cov-2. Thus, we at CW have many concerns regarding making these standards permanent and respectfully ask you to vote to oppose the adoption of a Permanent Standard for SARS-CoV-2, for these main reasons:
1. Creates confusion because of conflicting federal and state regulations:
VA employers have access to guidance and resources from the CDC, OSHA, and VHD to help stop the spread of SARS-Cov-2. Certain additional requirements to the standards - particularly the return-to-work requirements - contradict that guidance and recommendations. Contradicting guidance becomes more convoluted in cases where CW has operations and worksites in other states.
To reduce confusion when deciding which requirements to follow, employers should be able to utilize current, nationwide guidance. This would result in a consistent, clear message for our teammates, conveyed through CW policy.
2. Enforces premature mandates for an unprecedented event, while data and health recommendations continue to evolve:
CDC and VHD guidance continues to evolve as evidenced by recent revisions to recovery/return to work guidance. By adopting these proposed permanent standards, it saddles VA employers with a standard that may not reflect the latest breakthroughs on this "fluid and dynamic" virus.
VA employers should instead be encouraged to follow the latest CDC guidance without the need to interpret a standard that could be outdated the moment it is published. This creates hazardous risks for employers and their employees.
3. Increases liability risk due to vague language and unclear implementation threshold:
While employers make their best effort to comply with guidance as well as required ETS, they still cannot control what employees do after-hours, which is their greatest risk of exposure. These standards place undue responsibility and liability on employers for actions occurring outside of the workplace.
Adopting a standard for such a specific virus sets a dangerous precedent. There is high probability that this virus will soon be manageable, even preventable. A permanent standard implies that mandates - prescreens, face covers, etc. - will still be required even after an available vaccine or more controlled scenario of the virus is in place. A permanent standard to a non-permanent virus is unnecessary.
4. Fosters a distracted and diluted focus on other core safety precautions:
The complex requirements of the proposed permanent standard is taking focus away from the traditional, serious safety risks. The one-size-fits-all standards cause employers to spend an inordinate amount of time interpreting and implementing new procedures. The quest to stay compliant will keep employers from getting fined or shut down, but it comes at the cost of not being able to focus on ongoing core - fatal four - safety risks.
Before there were federal or state requirements, CW was intuitively procuring the necessary tools and training for our teammates to be safe and successful: this includes hand sanitizer, disinfectant, face coverings, dust masks, respirators, workplace controls (distancing & occupancy), as well as work processes in HVAC (work in air streams) and Plumbing (work on clogged lines) at facilities that could contain infectious diseases.
Through our efforts, CW believes that the 40 hours we spend together are the safest place for our teammates to be during this pandemic. CW is committed to protecting our people and complying with all federal, state, and local regulations. That said, adopting a permanent standard for a temporary pandemic will not make VA's workers safer and will harm business in the process. For many reasons, a few listed above, I urge you to oppose the adoption of a Permanent Standard for SARS-CoV-2.
Instead of setting regulation, the VOSH consultation program - an effective force in keeping VA's workplaces safe and healthy - should be tasked to prepare a standard curriculum for all employers to use in training employees as well as provide online consultative services for helping employers develop infectious disease preparedness and response plans and practices.
Thank you for taking the time to evaluate my response. Most importantly, thank you for your efforts in making VA a safe and healthy place to work.
Anthony Bowers, CSP