Flash Report: Standard Board Tables ETS Vote

The Cal/OSHA Standards Board held over a critical vote on revisions to the COVID emergency temporary standard. The move was at the request of the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, which says it wants to redo the revisions in accord with the Center for Disease Control.

DOSH intends to rework the proposal, and the board is now slated to vote on that version on June 3rd in emergency session. Board staff says it plans to post the language for public comment on May 28th. The vote would allow the new emergency language to be in place by June 15th, the state reopening – without masks – announced by Governor Gavin Newsom.

The decision comes after a surprise memorandum sent to the board on the eve of its expected May 20th vote on the ETS changes. Deputy Chief for Health Eric Berg noted the May 13th guidance update from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that allows fully vaccinated persons to go without masks in some settings. “In light of that update,” Berg writes, “California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly announced on May 17th that ‘California plans to implement the CDC’s guidelines around masking to allow fully vaccinated Californians to go without a mask in most indoor settings’ starting June 15th.”

Berg says, “it is important to revisit the proposed COVID-19 prevention emergency regulations in light of this new guidance.” The Division requested the board table its vote “and instead allow us to present a new proposal at a future meeting.”

The new changes to the ETS are expected to be limited to the vaccination issue. Some stakeholders at the May 20th meeting urged the board to scrap the ETS altogether. “The ETS needs to be repealed,” says Michael Miiller, director of regulatory affairs for the California Association of Winegrape Growers. “Ninety-two percent of [COVID] exposures are not from the workplace.”

As always, it is a fight between the unions who show they want regulation and regulation with punishment on the one hand and business which needs a positive environment to flourish on the other. When labor wins in California, businesses, and jobs leave.

But Cynthia Rice, director of litigation for California Rural Legal Assistance, warned against a rollback of the rules. “We are where we are because of the protections put in place.”

But another speaker at the meeting said that it is impossible for regulation to keep up with science.

Former DOSH Chief Len Welsh adds, “We’ll be much better off with a situation with much more fluidity,” calling for a three-tiered enforcement approach using existing permanent standards and CDPH guidelines.

An emergency session is a rarity by the board. The last time such a session was held was in the early 1990s when then-governor Pete Wilson ordered the Standards Board to entertain comments from stakeholders about what they liked and didn’t like about the Cal/OSHA regulations of the time.

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