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Revised Cal/OSHA emergency standards effective June 17, prevail over new federal OSHA standards

Employers must make COVID-19 testing available at no cost in qualifying situations

June 17, 2021 25510

Quick Summary:

Employers also must inform employees that unvaccinated workers have a right to request and receive a respirator, such as an N95, for their voluntary use. The revised standards align with the newest guidance from the CDPH and CDC and are more stringent than the new federal OSHA standards.

Article updated 06/23/21 to include a link to CDA Practice Support's new California State Reopening Guide for Dental Practices.

Revisions to the Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standards took effect June 17 with several major changes for California employers, including the requirement to make COVID-19 testing available at no cost during paid time to employees who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and had a close contact in the workplace or are showing symptoms of the illness.

Employers also must inform employees that unvaccinated workers have a right to request and receive a respirator, such as an N95, for their voluntary use.

The revised standards require physical distancing only for nonvaccinated employees and during COVID-19 outbreaks and other specific circumstances.

Revisions align with newest CDPH, CDC guidance; diverge from new federal OSHA standard

The revisions come after a couple of weeks of flux, with the Cal/OSHA Standards Board voting June 9 to withdraw the earlier proposed revisions. Some of those would have taken effect June 15 to coincide with the governor’s plan to reopen much of the California economy, but the board chose to review the California Department of Public Health’s newest guidance on masking with the intent to propose new revisions at its next meeting June 17.

Gov. Gavin Newsom today signed an executive order to implement the revised regulations immediately. Ordinarily, the proposed revisions would go to the state Office of Administrative Law for review and approval within 10 days. The end date of the revised regulations is unknown at this time. 

The new Cal/OSHA standard is more stringent than the new federal OSHA standard reported by the American Dental Association earlier this week. While the new federal standard largely exempts nonambulatory settings, including dental offices, from many of the screening requirements, the new Cal/OSHA standard offers very limited exemptions.

CDA President Judee Tippett-Whyte, DDS, in response to the misalignment said: “Although the Cal/OSHA standards do not identically follow the newly released federal OSHA standards, it is important to note that California has intentionally made a level playing field of guidelines for employers in healthcare settings to follow as more research is conducted on the effectiveness of the vaccines and emerging variants. As more evidence emerges, CDA will continue advocacy with Cal/OSHA to ensure that requirements for dental offices are evidence-based and reflect dentistry’s proven track record for infection control practices that keep the safety of dental team members and patients paramount.”

Providing COVID-19 testing and respirators for unvaccinated employees

One temporary standard in place since Nov. 30, 2020, did not change: Employers must continue to “provide and ensure use of eye protection and respiratory protection in compliance with section 5144 when employees are exposed to procedures that may aerosolize potentially infectious material such as saliva or respiratory tract fluids.”

The revised standards no longer require cleanable solid partitions.

Here are summaries of other key changes for health care settings:

  • Fully vaccinated employees without COVID-19 symptoms do not need to be tested or quarantined after close contacts with COVID-19 cases unless they have symptoms of the illness.
  • Employer must make COVID-19 testing available at no cost during paid time to any employee who had a close contact in the workplace unless the employee was fully vaccinated before the close contact had COVID-19 and has remained free of COVID-19 symptoms for 90 days after the positive test or onset of symptoms.
  • Employer must make COVID-19 testing available at no cost during paid time to symptomatic employees who are not fully vaccinated, regardless of where the exposure may have occurred. Previous standards required testing to be provided to all employees regardless of vaccination status.
  • Employer must consider using portable or mounted HEPA filtration units or other air cleaning systems and review CDPH’s “interim guidance for ventilation, filtration and air quality in indoor environments” and other orders and guidance from the state.
  • Employers must communicate that unvaccinated staff have a right to request and receive an approved respirator for voluntary use. The employer must provide the requested respirator in the correct size and instruct the employee on how to properly wear it and perform a seal check.
  • An unvaccinated employee who does not wear a face covering or a nonrestrictive alternative as permitted in the regulation must stay at least 6 feet apart from all others unless the employee is tested weekly for COVID-19 during paid time and at no cost to the employee. 
  • Employees who are fully vaccinated or who had COVID-19 and have remained free of COVID-19 symptoms for 90 days after the positive test or onset of symptoms do not need to be excluded from the workplace after a close contact if they are not exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.

Updated definitions of face covering, close contact

The revised standards include updated definitions of “close contact” and “face covering” and “fully vaccinated.” 

For example, a face covering is not a scarf, bandana, turtleneck, collar, ski mask, balaclava or any single-layer fabric. A face covering is defined specifically as a surgical or medical procedure mask, a respirator worn voluntarily or a tightly woven fabric or nonwoven material of at least two layers.

As before, an individual will be considered fully vaccinated if at least 14 days have passed since the individual received a single-dose vaccine or the second in a two-dose vaccine. However, now the employer must collect and have documentation of the employee’s vaccination.

Other definitions, such as “high risk exposure period,” are also clarified. 

Employers can find all definitions of terms in the revised standards and may also want to reference Cal/OSHAs frequently asked questions about the revisions. Dentists should remember that requirements for face coverings will continue in health care settings. 

CDA addendum to IIPP, other resources available

CDA developed a State Reopening Guide for Dental Practices with resources to help dentists follow the new Cal/OSHA regulations plus the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and California Department of Public Health. The guide includes an updated COVID-19 prevention plan/addendum to the IIPP, a COVID-19 tracking form and other resources.