June 29, 2020
Virginia is poised to become the first state in the nation to issue an emergency occupational, safety, and health standard to protect employees from COVID-19.
The state’s Safety and Health Codes Board voted last week to create an emergency temporary standard due to the failure of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue a mandatory standard covering COVID-19 safety precautions.
Virginia’s effort to take the lead on issuing a safety standard for workers is a step in the right direction, especially for K-12 school teachers and staff. It comes as teachers at some of the largest school systems in the commonwealth are struggling to understand what safety measures their schools will make mandatory and whether or not those decisions will force them to resign their positions out of fear for their health or the health of family members.
The emergency standard, which is expected to go into effect on July 15, would require employers to assess their workplaces for COVID-19 exposure hazards, implement policies for employee reporting of COVID-19 symptoms and positive tests, and removal of workers with symptoms from the worksite for 14 days. It also calls for social distancing guidelines and personal protective equipment in the workplace, as well as a documented sanitation and disinfecting plans. High-risk employers are also required to consider engineering controls to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure and provide respiratory protection for employees.
Employers who fail to comply with the standard may be fined $13,047 for a single violation, $130,463 for willful and repeat violations and $13,047 per day for failing to abate the risk. Employers may receive reduced penalties based on the size of their workforce, but the minimum penalty is $600.
The move, spearheaded by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, should come as welcome news to K-12 teachers and staff across the state, but particularly in Fairfax County, which runs the 10th largest school system in the country and has the highest number of confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 in the state. The county’s public school system has already made the decision to open its schools at reduced capacity in August, but officials and the school board have yet to make decisions on critical components of the reopening plan, such as making face coverings mandatory and how they plan to enable parents to self-report each morning that their children are not experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and have not been exposed to the virus.
Many teachers have drawn the line at mandatory face coverings, with some threatening to resign if the school system does not make them mandatory when social distancing is not possible. Virginia’s emergency standard appears to provide the guarantee that teachers across the state have been asking for.
But keeping children who are symptomatic or who have been exposed to the illness out of school remains the most critical challenge facing K-12 school districts across the country. Some schools are setting themselves up for failure by relying on manual forms, text messaging, and other inefficient and error-prone processes that cannot be easily turned into reports that can be shared with county and state health officials.
The most cost-effective and impactful solution requires a mobile app that can support daily one-touch health check-ins or privacy-compliant health surveys based on CDC guidelines, reliable and effective two-way safety communications, and the ability to provide resources to school communities in response to rapidly changing health conditions and guidance.
That’s why when the nation began shutting down months ago to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, LiveSafe immediately began work on new health safety modules that can help K-12 and higher education institutions get their students and staff back to school safely and at minimal cost.
Built upon the LiveSafe enterprise risk intelligence and safety communications platform, our COVID-19 health screening and self-attestation modules enable organizations to detect potential infections, prevent outbreaks, and reduce legal liability, while maintaining the privacy and security of employee and student health information.
These modules can be deployed in days, and are configured on the existing infrastructure of the industry-leading LiveSafe risk intelligence and prevention platform, which currently protects more than four million people across the nation.
For more information on LiveSafe’s COVID-19 solutions for K-12, visit https://www.livesafemobile.com/k-12-return-to-school/