Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board Readopts Updated COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard

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The Division of Occupational Safety and Health or Cal/OSHA is a division in the California Department of Industrial Relations. Its function is to protect California workers from health and safety hazards on the job. The Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board is a seven-member board appointed by the Governor. This board is responsible for adopting reasonable and enforceable standards that are as effective as federal standards.

The Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board readopted the Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) for the second time on December 16, 2021. These emergency standards contain some updates to be consistent with the recommendations of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). These updated emergency standards take effect on January 14, 2022. The standards apply to most California workers not covered by the Aerosol Transmissible Diseases standard.

Revisions to the ETS

Revisions to the ETS relate to several issues, including handling COVID-19 cases in the workplace, wearing face coverings, testing, and returning to work criteria.

Handling COVID-19 Cases in the Workplace

Employers must continue to notify employees and other workers of potential COVID-19 exposures within one business day. This section contains more specific instructions about how to notify workers who were at the same worksite as a person infected with COVID-19 during a high-risk exposure period.

Face Coverings

The ETS acknowledges that some workers may be unable to wear a face-covering due to a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability and cannot wear a less-restrictive alternative. These workers must work at a physical distance of six feet from others and either be fully vaccinated or tested at least once per week for COVID-19. Any COVID-19 testing for these workers must be during paid work hours and at no cost to the employees.

COVID-19 Testing

Employers must make free COVID-19 testing available for workers during paid work hours after they have had close contact with a COVID-19 case, even if they were fully vaccinated before the close contact occurred and have no symptoms. If fully vaccinated workers are exposed to COVID-19 cases during outbreaks or major outbreaks, they must have access to free COVID-19 testing during paid work hours, even if they have no symptoms. Testing must be available weekly during an outbreak and twice weekly during a major outbreak.

Furthermore, employers do not have to exclude workers who recently have recovered from COVID-19 and fully vaccinated workers from the workplace after close contact with a COVID-19 case. However, these individuals must wear face coverings and maintain six feet of physical distancing for 14 calendar days after the last date that contact occurred.

Returning to Work

The amount of time that must pass before a worker who has had close contact with a COVID-19 case or a COVID-19 illness has been updated to match current CDPH guidelines. Additionally, these timeframes will automatically update if CDPH updates its guidelines.

ETS Employer Requirements that Remain Unchanged

All employers must develop and implement an effective COVID-19 Prevention Program that addresses:

  • Identifying and evaluating worker exposures to COVID-19
  • Establishing policies to correct unsafe and unhealthy conditions
  • Allowing adequate time for handwashing and cleaning frequently touched surfaces and objects

Employers must also provide information to their workers about how COVID-19 is spread, how to prevent infection and any COVID-related benefits to which they may be entitled under federal, state, or local laws.

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