Flash Report: Cal/OSHA: To Mask or Not to Mask

The Cal/OSHA Standards Board has published the latest version of its COVID emergency standard, on which it will vote later this week. The big change: Fully vaccinated employees will not have to wear masks indoors if unvaccinated coworkers are among them.

The move comes after an outcry from employers that the agency was not following new national and state guidelines in light of declining COVID rates and in recognition of the reopening of the state. After an emergency meeting on June 9th, when the board rescinded the June 3rd version of the controversial standard, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health quickly published the new language.

The rulemaking body has appointed three of its members to work with the Division on further changes, and if COVID remains under control, the entire emergency standard could be rescinded.

The current (original) version of the standard will remain in effect until the Office of Administrative Law the new one. That version is expected to take effect by the 28th.

Gone from the new version is a reference to “outdoor mega events” (10,000 or more people), during which vaccinated and unvaccinated employees would have to be masked or physically distanced, as well as indoor operations.

Under the proposal, employers will be required to provide and enforce face masks for employees not fully vaccinated indoors or in vehicles. Even when the standard does not require masks, employers will be required to provide them to employees “upon request.”

Another revision that will likely please the restaurant business is removing a requirement that “cleanable solid partitions” be installed when physical distancing isn’t possible between employees and “other persons.”

All references to July 31st sunset provisions have been removed in the proposal.

DOSH recognizes the changed circumstances but warns that employees could still contract the virus.

“As reflected in the proposed emergency regulations, the use of effective vaccines has reduced the need for some of the protections put into place by the November 30th, 2020, emergency temporary standard,” DOSH says in its renewed emergency finding. “However, a serious hazard to employees still exists. A very large proportion of California employees remain unvaccinated as of the scheduled June 17th” Standards Board meeting. “Unvaccinated employees will therefore be particularly at risk, especially given the spread of especially contagious SARS-CoV-2 variants, unless protective measures are taken.”

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