In this Issue:
- Virginia Department of Labor Adopts Workplace Safety Standards
- Governor Northam’s Press Release: Virginia Adopts First-in-the-Nation Workplace Safety Standards for COVID-19 Pandemic
- Governor Northam Increases Enforcement in COVID Hot Spots
- International Code Council Releases Analysis of Building Department Response to COVID-19
On Tuesday, July 15th, the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Codes Board voted to approve an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) on infectious disease prevention. Over the last several weeks, HBAV has been monitoring the Board’s deliberations and submitted several comments, on behalf of the industry, seeking additional clarity and guidance in the emergency temporary standard.
The text of the standard is currently being finalized and will be posted on the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s website as soon as it is available. We will send out the text of the standard when it becomes available, as well as an overview of the provisions that are particularly relevant to the construction industry.
In accordance with Va. Code §40.1‐22(6a), the Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) will take immediate effect upon publication in a newspaper of general circulation, published in the City of Richmond, Virginia. The Department anticipates that publication of the ETS will occur during the week of July 27, 2020, although the exact date is not known at this time.
Training and outreach products are being developed by the VOSH Cooperative Programs Division and will be made available to the regulated community, employees, and the general public as soon as they are available:
- COVID‐19 Training PowerPoint for Employers and Employees with an included training certification form
- ETS Training PowerPoint that explains the elements of the standard with an included training certification form (including different versions for different industries)
- FAQs about the standard
- Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan Template (including different versions for different industries)
- Training PowerPoint on how to develop an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan Template with an included training certification form
- Flowchart for determining how to classify job tasks by hazards employees are potentially exposed to for “very high”, “high”, “medium”, and “lower” exposure risk levels
Covered employers will be given 60 days from the effective date of the ETS to develop and train employees on their Infectious disease preparedness and response plan required under §16 VAC 25‐220‐70. Covered employers will be given 30 days to train employees on the standard under §16 VAC 25‐220‐80.
Governor Northam’s Press Release: Virginia Adopts First-in-the-Nation Workplace Safety Standards for COVID-19 Pandemic
Governor Ralph Northam today announced the adoption of statewide emergency workplace safety standards in response to the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. These first-in-the-nation safety rules will protect Virginia workers by mandating appropriate personal protective equipment, sanitation, social distancing, infectious disease preparedness and response plans, record keeping, training, and hazard communications in workplaces across the Commonwealth. The actions come in the absence of federal guidelines.
Newly adopted standards require all employers to mandate social distancing measures and face coverings for employees in customer-facing positions and when social distancing is not possible, provide frequent access to hand washing or hand sanitizer, and regularly clean high-contact surfaces. In addition, new standards require all employees be notified within 24 hours if a coworker tests positive for the virus. Employees who are known or suspected to be positive for COVID-19 cannot return to work for 10 days or until they receive two consecutive negative tests.
On July 14th, Governor Northam stepped up enforcement of guidelines and restrictions as cases in the Hampton Roads area show a troubling increase.
According to local health officials, the rise in cases in the region is driven partly by people gathering in groups, often without wearing face coverings.
To increase enforcement of existing restrictions in restaurants and other places where people gather, Governor Northam is directing teams made up of members from the health departments, the Virginia ABC, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and other licensing agencies, to conduct unannounced visits to establishments as needed.
Governor Northam is also asking mayors of beach towns for an update on how they are following through on beach access plans put forth in May, and has directed Virginia ABC to develop a plan to impose an earlier cutoff for alcohol sales at restaurants.
Governor Northam will consider additional actions as needed.
The International Code Council surveyed building and fire departments to find out how code officials are coping with the professional challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. As of April 1, 2020, at 12:00 PM, 1,158 respondents from all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia provided input. Respondents came from jurisdictions of all sizes ranging from 1,000 people to over 4.6 million. The results of this survey show trends on how jurisdictions throughout the U.S. are keeping up with inspections, new building permits and new construction. The full report can be found here.
- The majority of departments surveyed (93%) are still performing inspections, either remotely or in-person. This falls in line with what the Code Council expected given that many areas have classified construction and code compliance activities as essential.
- More than half (65%) of respondents said that some or all employees that conduct plan review or inspections are working remotely.
- A large percentage of jurisdictions (66%) use a combination of electronic and hard copy versions of building safety codes, while a much smaller percentage of jurisdictions (7%) have advanced to using all electronic. 27% of respondents said their jurisdiction used only hard copies. This could create challenges where hard copies are shared and departments do not have enough hard copies for each now-remote employee that needs them. In fact, 23% said their employees do not have access to needed hard copy code books.
- Many jurisdictions have made the switch to electronic services, but a large percentage still do have the capacity to go virtual. In particular:
- 40% do not have the capability to do electronic/remote plan reviews.
- 30% do not have the capability to do any aspect of electronic/remote permitting.
- 61% do not have the capability for electronic/remote inspections.
- To expand services to fight the coronavirus pandemic, many healthcare facilities are putting beds in alternative locations (like school gymnasiums, hotels, outpatient surgical centers), or in temporary structures in their parking lots. 26% of respondents have encountered requests for permits for temporary occupancy and/or temporary structures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch recently publish a piece from Virginia House of Delegates member, Ibraheem Samirah, entitled “Zoning for abundant housing is a racial justice issue”. Below are some excerpts and the full piece can be found here.
“One of the most pernicious forms of this systemic racism is residential segregation. In cities and towns across Virginia and the U.S., there is a clear pattern: Black people and white people often live in different neighborhoods with vastly disparate access to services like public transit, quality education, and even healthy food and clean water. Now more than ever, we need to acknowledge how exclusionary zoning practices greatly contribute to that pattern.”
“Exclusionary zoning works by blocking homebuilders from creating the types of affordable homes that many Black, brown and low-income people rely on. Wherever a property only is zoned for single-family homes, it acts as a ban on the construction of vastly more affordable housing types, like duplexes, row houses and low-rise apartments.”
Last March, EPA issued a memorandum entitled COVID-19 Implications for EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Program. The memorandum announced a temporary policy regarding EPA’s enforcement of environmental obligations during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Pursuant to that memorandum, if the pandemic constrains a facility’s ability to perform routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification, the facility can document that fact and potentially avoid enforcement. EPA said in the memo that it “does not expect to seek penalties for violations” where it agrees COVID-19 is the cause of the noncompliance. The memorandum also established certain notification obligations if the facility expected to miss certain obligations and milestones in EPA administrative settlement agreements.
All good things must come to an end. In a June 29, 2020 addendum to the memorandum, EPA announced that it will terminate the temporary policy on August 31, 2020. This means EPA will not base any exercise of enforcement discretion on COVID-19 after that date. EPA could have terminated the policy earlier but said the August termination date is designed to give facilities time to adjust.
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