Dear Mr. Withrow and Board:
The Communications Workers of America (CWA) District 2-13 strongly supports a permanent Standard for Infectious Disease Prevention: SARS-CoV-2 Virus That Causes COVID-19. The current pandemic will continue for an indeterminate period of time, well after the Virginia Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) expires at the end of January 2021. Strong, COVID-19 workplace protections will continue to save lives, slow the spread of COVID-19, and will dampen the health and economic impact of COVID-19 on employers, workers, and the community. Virginia should continue to lead the way in adopting a strong, permanent, ENFORCEABLE, COVID-19 infectious disease standard.
The Communications Workers of America is a Labor Union representing workers in various industries and sectors across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. In Virginia we represent approximately 6,500 workers across the Commonwealth. This includes Virginia workers in the industries of telecom, airlines, media, retail, manufacturing, and healthcare. We also represent workers at the American Red Cross, Virginia Department of Corrections and the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice.
We have seen first-hand the devastation that COVID-19 has had on workers across the country, including Virginia. Hundreds of our members have become infected with this deadly disease and too many have died. The Virginia Emergency Temporary Standard has already provided a critical means for improving workplace conditions and protecting workers.
The ETS is a start, but there are areas we believe should be strengthened in the permanent standard which must do everything it can to protect workers within the Commonwealth. Our concerns are as follows:
1. Correctional facilities, jails, detention centers, and juvenile detention centers are unique environments and MUST have increased and more comprehensive workplace controls and protections. Outbreaks continue at Department of Corrections (DOC) facilities. We strongly feel that these facilities need the following requirements written into the standard to ensure safety:
a. Stop all entrance into the facilities for anyone not incarcerated or employed and assigned to that individual facility;
b. Test ALL staff, resident/inmate, officer, deputy, etc. within the facility as a baseline and then regularly to ensure asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic COVID-19 positive individuals do not expose others and continue to spread the disease;
c. Mandate respirator use, not "face coverings" for all employees and require enhanced protocols and protections for all inmates/residents when they are transported or removed from their normal pod.
2. This standard must also have clear requirements for workers in uncontrolled environments such as those who must enter and work in residences or other businesses, including health care facilities. This category of worker has no way of identifying a threat until after they are exposed and become ill and an employer has no way of ensuring that this is a safe environment, even with pre-screening of customers. There is a further concern these workers can inadvertently expose the public as they move throughout their day, house to house or business to business, if they do not know they are infected. Procedures such as "curbside" service in retail and in "no contact" delivery for packages or food are in place to recognize the danger in carrying this disease from person to person. This category of worker who routinely enters uncontrolled environments such as residences, businesses, and other facilities (including health care), however, must often enter a dwelling to repair, test, or install equipment and they are subject to a much higher degree of danger that then continues to be carried to the next residence. In order to protect these workers and to mitigate the exposure risk for others we strongly believe these workers should have the following, mandated protections in the permanent standard:
a. These workers must be issued NIOSH-certified respirators, not "face coverings" that are not regulated or certified in any way, as well as other appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) prior to entering unknown environments. Employers should be required to follow the Respiratory Protection standard, 16VAC25-90-1910.134.
b. Employers must ensure that workers have enough tools and equipment to minimize sharing of equipment, including vehicles. In the rare event this does not happen, all shared equipment must be sterilized prior to use by another employee.
c. Requirements should be put in place to protect workers who must inhabit or travel in a shared work vehicle. The current language in the ETS, 16VAC25-220-40 Mandatory requirements for all employers, Section F, “When 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,” does not provide any meaningful protection and is toothless. For example, there are no industry requirements for respiratory protection or other PPE for telecommunications employees who may travel together in the cab of a two person line vehicle or for members of a news crew traveling together in a news van. The standard should specify requirements for shared work/travel in vehicles, such as ventilation protocols (bringing in outside air instead of recirculating air or traveling with the windows open, etc.), respiratory protection, and cleaning/disinfecting protocols.
d. Employers must also be required to screen customers or locations prior to dispatching an employee to determine possible high risk scenarios.
3. Respirators, not face coverings, should be required to protect Professionals who collect blood and plasma. These employees must be close to, and physically touch, individuals who are donating blood/plasma. Blood drives may occur in indoor environments not controlled by the employer and/or in vehicles designed for the purpose, where there is increased risk of airborne exposure.
4. The permanent standard should increase protections to prevent against airborne exposure, particularly in indoor environments. SARS-CoV-2 aerosols can remain suspended in air and travel beyond six feet. A separation of six feet, particularly in an indoor or enclosed environment, is very important, but not sufficient to protect against airborne transmission.
We urge the Safety and Health Codes Board to adopt as permanent an improved version of “16 VAC 25-220 Proposed Permanent Standard, Infectious Disease Prevention: SARS-CoV-2 Virus That Causes COVID-19” to continue to protect workers from COVID-19 throughout this pandemic and as protection against future outbreaks.
Communications Workers of America