Mask mandate continues for most California workplaces

By June 4, 2021 No Comments

At a marathon public meeting June 3rd, the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board unanimously approved a revised Cal/OSHA proposal that allows workers to go maskless in only a few circumstances including:  everyone in a room is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus,  or workers are outdoors and not within six feet of other people, according to an AP report.  There are a few additional exceptions such as when workers alone in a room; while eating and drinking (maintaining six feet); or when fully vaccinated and outdoors, even without distancing.

To determine vaccination status, businesses will be required to keep documentation that employees are fully vaccinated. The regulations also put new requirements on employers to purchase N95 masks, of the correct size for employees not fully vaccinated, prompting concern that employers might have to rapidly stockpile the respirators.

Helen Cleary, director of the Phylmar Regulatory Roundtable, a coalition of large businesses, said she was “astonished” that the seven-member board didn’t align with guidelines from federal and state health officials.

The proposed rules “create two classes of people” in the workplace, she told the board. Plus, “there are conflicting messages in the proposed amendments and there is a lack of scientific evidence for them,” she said.

Recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance says that fully vaccinated people can now skip face coverings and distancing in nearly all situations and California is set to follow that recommendation. Starting June 15, vaccinated individuals will be able to go to most public settings without having to wear masks, even if other unvaccinated individuals are present.

But the state safety board said key differences exist between employees and the public at large, with employees having “longer cumulative exposures” in the workplace than in casual social contact.

The Cal/OSHA regulations approved by the board apply in almost every workplace in the state, except working from home or where there is a single employee who does not have contact with other people.

The workplace rules could remain in place into early next year. But the board made clear at the meeting that the regulations are only a stopgap while it considers further easing pandemic rules in coming weeks or months. The board appointed a three-member subcommittee that will try to craft acceptable revisions. Revising the rules will be a lengthier process. Any future changes must be drafted by Cal/OSHA employees before a public review considers those changes.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, who established the state reopening date of June 15 and appointed the board’s members, at a press conference June 4 urged the board to keep revising its rules as infection rates fall and vaccinations increase, and he promised to keep working with management and labor “to see where we land.”

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