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Understanding the State's COVID-19 Guidance

As of this week, 100k Americans have died from COVID-19 infection. Many "essential workers" have remained at work with concerns about their risk of exposure, lamenting unnecessary risks they may face due to lax planning or protections. Meanwhile, more Californians want to return to work — or they’re being asked to return, whether they want to or not. Clearly, now is the time to engage in dialogue about better workplace protections.

Cal/OSHA has several applicable regulations, and it has created guidance documents for eight industries. In addition, the State of California has created nearly two dozen industry-specific guidance documents on COVID-19 safety. 

These guides give employers and workers a foundation to start conversations about what is needed to make workplaces safer and prevent COVID-19 transmission. They include a checklist for each industry, and employers are instructed to post the completed checklist at the worksite to inform workers and customers.

The State guides include several sections. The first three sections are similar across all industries, and the remaining sections are tailored to each industry. They recommend that employers:

  1. Create a written, worksite-specific plan that includes:
    1. An identified responsible person charged with implementing the plan;
    2. A risk assessment including measures that will be taken to prevent spread;
    3. Training and communication with employees and their representatives;
    4. A process to check for compliance and document and correct deficiencies;
    5. A process to investigate cases, alert the local health department, and identify and isolate close workplace contacts of infected workers until they are tested;
    6. Updates to the plan to prevent further cases.
  2. Train employees on COVID-19, the plan and precautions in it, and instruction on any new or different work procedures, tools, chemicals, and Personal Protective Equipment they must use
  3. Put in place Individual Control Measures and Screening
  4. Put in place Cleaning and Disinfecting Protocols
  5. Put in place Physical Distancing Guidelines
  6. Put in place any additional considerations (for some industries)

The quickest way to see improvements in your workplace is to engage in dialogue with an employer, persuade them to improve protections, and offer ideas on solutions. This is clearly easier in unionized workplaces, especially those with safety and health committees. As always, gathering good ideas from workers (the experts) about ways to keep everyone safe is crucial in any workplace.