Dr. Soumi Eachempati
How important are the new COVID standards by Cal/OSHA?
The Cal/OSHA standards for COVID compliance were just changed on February 3, 2023. Many businesses initially ignored the changes as they felt the new rules were similar to the previous ones. Others thought the standards would be poorly enforced and they would never need to comply.
Both groups are wrong.
The original rules took effect in November 2020 and covered a variety of areas including testing, contact tracing, and reporting of COVID cases that occurred in the workplace or potentially threatened employees. The new rules have some distinct differences. Regulators are already indicating they will be enforced.
All the new rules will be in effect for at least the next two years.
The new rules have some very specific changes from the old standards. Perhaps the most onerous of the new regulations is the requirement of extensive training for employees regarding COVID safety. Compliance in this area will require a major understanding of the new guidance by the employees who will be performing the training. Since this will a new role for many of these workers, they themselves may require extensive training. Some businesses may even have to hire individuals just for this purpose.
One of the most important areas is that companies need to document an Injury Illness Prevention Plan (IIPP). Implementation of this plan includes new notice requirements for employees and the development of other new written protocols.
Another major area that will be new to businesses is the requirements surrounding documentation. All COVID cases in the workplace will need to be identified immediately and testing given to all exposed personnel. The notification to exposed individuals will need to be documented as well. Companies will be required to retain documentation regarding these issues for three years.
Other documentation requirements are also needed. Serious illnesses such as hospitalizations or deaths need to be reported to Cal/OSHA. Major outbreaks as specifically defined will need to be reported to Cal/OSHA. Records regarding these efforts also need to be kept for three years, even if the employees no longer work at the employer’s facility.
Rules are also present for specific work areas that may be at particular risk for COVID cases. Employers need to identify their own COVID-19 health hazards and develop methods to prevent them in the workplace. New rules supporting whistleblowers could lead to inspections. Regulators may see these areas during inspections and react accordingly based on their safety levels.
For many businesses, compliance with all these new regulations will be difficult. There may be confusion about the changes or a poor understanding of all the different areas that are addressed. Fortunately, resources exist that will ease and facilitate compliance with these new standards. Organizations that do not use any internal or external methods to adhere to these rules run major risks on many fronts.
Fortunately for employees, a continuing level of safety was upheld by the new Cal/OSHA standards. Compliant organizations with these COVID standards can enjoy safe, productive workplaces with minimal disruptions for worker absences. Other employees may need to be fearful of regulators or fines and constantly be trying to fill staffing needs. The time for businesses to act to maintain compliance is now. Inertia is not an option.