California officials on Thursday approved new regulations that require employers to implement safety measures designed to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, the latest state to adopt stricter rules.
The state Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board heard testimony about a temporary emergency rule that requires companies to educate employees on ways to prevent infections, provide free personal protective equipment, and offer free COVID-19 testing. to all employees if three or more employees are infected with the coronavirus within a period of 14 days, among other measures.
Labor groups said the new regulations are necessary to establish clear and enforceable standards.
“Before this, there was a guideline that employers should follow, but this standard provides a more simplified message of the safety measures they should take,” said Maggie Robbins, an occupational and environmental health specialist at Worksafe, an organization that promotes safety. security rights. in the workplace.
The rule was criticized by employers who were among more than 100 speakers who addressed the board before a planned vote, with many saying that a blanket rule that applies to all businesses is not practical. Business representatives also noted that many of the measures are already included in recently approved laws, local health orders and executive orders.
Mike Hall, who spoke on behalf of the Pacific Maritime Association, a San Francisco-based group representing the Pacific coast shipping industry, said shipping companies are spending more than $ 1 million per week on sanitation and cleanliness and have had few COVID-19 infections.
Hall said the requirement to test all employees if three or more positive cases are reported is not practical.
Cal / OSHA has received nearly 8,000 complaints about workplace safety since August, and most of its citations were issued to employers for failing to ensure workers maintain a physical distance or for failing to properly report COVID-19 illnesses. in the workplace, according to Assemblyman Ash Kalra, a Democratic Joseph.
Cal / OSHA did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking details on how many citations it has issued, which industries have been reported the most, or what the repercussions of violations are.
“Over a 14-day period, thousands upon thousands of workers pass through the port facilities in Southern California. If there were three people with the virus, the facility would have to test thousands upon thousands of workers during work hours each week. This is simply impossible, ”Hall said.
Teachers, janitors and factory, hotel and restaurant workers urged the board to pass the new regulations, many of whom tell personal stories about being infected with coronavirus at work.
Virgilda Romero, who works in the Los Angeles garment industry, said she contracted the virus at work where her employer did not provide soap for hand washing, did not make sure workers kept at least 6 feet apart, and did not I informed them when a colleague took a break because he had contracted the virus.
“After I returned to work, the bosses told me that a colleague had died of COVID,” he said. “I’m worried that I might get sick again and infect my family.”
The emergency standards go into effect within 10 days and will last at least six months.