Do Not Support Making the ETS Permanent
As a highway construction contractor in Virginia, I do not support the proposal to make the ETS standards permanent. While we all understand the importance of ETS during this pandemic, it is causing a significant administrative burden for us as employers, particularly in the construction industry. We are currently having to divert resources from other other positions/tasks just to manage the process, and should it become permanent, it may force companies like ours to hire additional personnel, affecting not only our competitiveness, but also the costs to the Commonwealth. Below are several reasons why we do not support this proposal:
- 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 also fosters an environment where employees could be hesitant to report symptoms or use leave they otherwise would.
- 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.
- ETS establishes company "Health officers" to become de facto certified, accredited, licensed doctors to diagnose symptoms and the health of employees. In doing so, they take on a form of liability regarding medical conditions without the required HIPAA or medical training. They also would necessarily become privy to private and personal employee health-related issues.
- ETS limits the number of employees and manner of in-person training & certifications, to the point that they become unrealistic to perform virtually in the construction industry. OSHA, MSHA and CPR/first-aid training all require, and in some cases mandate, in person instruction and physical contact that contradicts the ETS standard.
- 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. As examples, face coverings/shields easily fog up safety glasses and create a larger safety hazard to the employee. Further, in hot weather conditions, face coverings contribute to the potential for heat-related illnesses, and worker discomfort. Face coverings also muffle the employees voice, and eliminate the visual interpretation of the person speaking. Each of these situations can affect overall worker safety.