Virginia makes its COVID-19 workplace safety regulations permanent

(Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration says it’s approved a permanent version of its COVID-19 workplace safety rules, which mandates employers implement pandemic precautions like social distancing and masks.

Virginia was the first state in the country to implement emergency workplace regulations addressing COVID-19, which went into effect in July and were set to expire at the end of the month.

“While the end of this pandemic is finally in sight, the virus is still spreading, including several highly contagious variants, and now is not the time to let up on preventative measures,” Northam said in a statement.

The permanent standards will remain in place at least until the end of the pandemic, at which point the state’s Safety and Health Codes Board would reconvene to determine whether they’re still necessary.

Regulators want to extend Virginia’s expiring pandemic workplace safety rules

The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry has fielded more than 13,000 workplace complaints related to COVID-19, most of which the department says were resolved through informal investigations and voluntary compliance.

The department opened 100 formal investigations last year, most of which involved employee deaths, hospitalizations or workplaces where informal inquiries didn’t yield voluntary compliance. So far, 27 have resulted in formal citations and fines, according to Northam’s administration.

Business groups widely opposed the measures, calling them inflexible and unnecessary. They were applauded by labor groups, including the AFL-CIO.

Northam said he pursued the state-level rules in the absence of federal action by OSHA. His administration says at least six states have now adopted similar rules.