March 19, 2022
Re: Department of Labor and Industry Announces 30 Day Comment Period on Proposed Revocation of the Virginia Standard for Infectious Disease Prevention of the SARS-CoV-2 Virus that Causes COVID-19, 16VAC25-220
To Whom It May Concern:
The Virginia AFL-CIO, a state federation of the national AFL-CIO, represents over 300,000 union members and their families. With more than 300 affiliated local unions in the Commonwealth, unions represent workers in a broad range of industries including healthcare, first response, food processing, manufacturing, hospitality, construction, transportation, utilities, grocery and retail service, education, and others; in private and public sectors; in stationary and mobile workplaces. Our members work side-by-side millions of non-unionized workers. We have been engaged with the COVID-19 rulemaking since Virginia first proposed emergency temporary standards in 2020 through comments and testimony and have continued to support the work of the Safety and Health Codes Board in protecting workers.
The Commonwealth, through its Department of Labor and Industry and Safety and Health Codes Board, was the first state to thoughtfully and expediently issue a permanent standard to protect all workers from COVID-19. Now the Commonwealth has proposed to become the first state plan under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to revoke existing, permanent protections for workers, including those in health care settings, and are doing so just as an emerging COVID-19 omicron variant surge is expected and as Federal OSHA is expected to issue a permanent COVID-19 standard to protect health care workers.
The Virginia OSHA COVID-19 standards—temporary and permanent—in workplaces have been preventing workplace exposures and have saved lives. The permanent standard requires workplace outbreak reporting so that outbreaks can be easily identified early on for intervention to slow the spread, and so that outbreaks can be identified by industry for more targeted interventions. The existence and enforcement of this standard ensures workers are notified when they are exposed to COVID-19 on the job and requires employers to provide effective prevention measures. Virginia was the first state to recognize that COVID-19 spreads through small aerosolized particles in the air and therefore, instituted common sense measures to prevent such airborne exposures, like ventilation and respiratory protection. These prevention measures slow transmission in workplaces, preventing infections and keeping businesses running.
The COVID-19 crisis is still a pandemic. But OSHA protections are not promulgated and issued solely to address pandemics or other worst case scenarios. These protections are regularly issued and are absolutely critical to prevent worker exposures to "endemic" hazards, including silica, lead, asbestos, and many other hazards. The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to always keep workplaces free from recognized hazards. The significant illnesses and deaths caused by COVID-19 exposures at the workplace are known. More than 1.6 million people have been infected and nearly 20,000 people have lost their lives due to this virus in Virginia alone.1 Workers continue to need strong protections to prevent workers from inhaling COVID-19 and becoming infected, sick and dying.
COVID-19 is not yet endemic and may not be. As Virginia plans to remove protections in high risk workplaces, where individuals are unable to control their exposure as they are required by their employer to be together and share the same air, cases of COVID-19 are exponentially rising across the globe due to a more transmissible omicron variant of COVID-19.2
Virginia must not move backwards. Virginia must not remove safety protections from workers. The Virginia Standard for Infectious Disease Prevention of the SARS-CoV-2 Virus that Causes COVID-19 must not be revoked.
1 Virginia Department of Health. COVID-19 Data in Virginia. Accessed March 18, 2022. vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/see-the-numbers/covid-19-in-virginia/
2 Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. Global COVID cases rising again. March 16, 2022. cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2022/03/global-covid-cases-rising-again