Strongly Support the Proposed Permanent Standard
Dear Safety and Health Code Board:
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) District Council 20 strongly supports the proposed permanent standard for Infectious Disease Prevention: SARS-CoV-2 the Virus That Causes COVID-19. We urge you to adopt and implement a permanent standard that includes the changes we recommend.
AFSCME District Council 20 represents public service employees in Virginia. Our members include healthcare workers, bus operators, maintenance technicians, custodians and more. We advocate for fairness in the workplace, excellence in public services and freedom and opportunity for all working families. An important part of our mission is to advocate for our members in their workplaces, including their health and safety. Frontline workers are crucial in the fight against COVID-19, and they need and deserve adequate protections.
Since the pandemic began, District Council 20 has surveyed public service workers about their employers’ responses to COVID-19 and whether those efforts have been enough to keep essential workers safe on the job and adequate to support those who have been teleworking. Public workers have raised their concerns of inadequate safety measures and supplies of personal protective equipment.
We applaud the Board’s efforts to adopt a permanent standard. Mere guidelines and recommendations for protecting workers against COVID-19 have not and will not provide the level of protection workers need. Given the continuing threat that COVID-19 poses to Virginia’s workers, the Board and the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health program (VOSH) should move quickly to adopt the proposed permanent standard.
In adopting a final standard, we urge you to make the following improvements:
- Eliminate §16VAC25-220-10. G.1. — the proposed standard’s safe harbor that deems an employer’s compliance with CDC recommendations for mitigating SARS-CoV-2- and COVID-19- related hazards or job tasks addressed by this standard as constituting compliance with the standard. The standard must be a mandatory requirement that supersedes any recommendations or guidelines.
- Adopt additional employer recordkeeping requirements, including:
- COVID-19 Exposure Logs.
- Records of PPE stockpile (inventory) and availability.
In addition to adopting a permanent standard, it is essential that VOSH show that it is committed to enforcing it. Although the COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) established strong worker protections that addressed employer and employee communication regarding COVID-19 cases, we note that some employers are failing to communicate with employees. For example, the City of Norfolk’s Department of Utilities did not notify its workers that one of the Department’s employees had contracted COVID-19. The union learned of this case separately after that employee had died from the disease. Going forward, it will be important for VOSH to address employer noncompliance by actively enforcing the ETS and permanent standard.
While the focus today is necessarily on the current pandemic, new infectious diseases will continue to emerge, threatening the safety of workers, their families and our community. To prepare for and protect against when that happens, we also urge you to apply the lessons of today to develop and adopt a separate permanent standard that would apply to all infectious diseases.
The proposed standard is an important step forward for working people in Virginia. It will help protect workers, their families and our communities from this virus and reopen the economy safely. Therefore, AFSCME District Council 20 urges the Board to take immediate action to adopt and enforce the Infectious Disease Prevention: SARS-CoV-2 Virus that Causes COVID-19 and incorporate the improvements we have recommended. We appreciate the opportunity to provide these comments. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.
AFSCME DC 20
 The Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) established strong worker protections that addressed employer and employee communication regarding COVID-19 cases, however, some employers are resisting to communicate with employees of suspected or confirm COVID-19 cases.