Cal/OSHA Has Updated Its COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standards FAQs

SACRAMENTO — ICYMI,Cal/OSHA updated its COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standards FAQs this past Friday, January 8th.

There are now 69 FAQs with seven additional subheadings to help clarify and answer questions that Cal/OSHA has received about the COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS). These FAQ’s cover topics such as: Effective Date, Enforcement, The COVID-19 Prevention Program, Communication and Employees, Physical Distancing, Face Coverings, Training, Testing, Addressing COVID-19 Cases in the Workplace, and more. 

CLICK HERE to view the full FAQ’s. 

Below are a few of the updated FAQs:

Q: What are the main requirements of the ETS?
A: To comply with the ETS, an employer must develop a written COVID-19 Prevention Program or ensure its elements are included in an existing Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP). The employer must implement the following in accordance with their written program:

  • Communication to employees about the employer’s COVID-19 prevention procedures
  • Identify, evaluate and correct COVID-19 hazards
  • Physical distancing of at least six feet unless it is not possible
  • Use of face coverings
  • Use engineering controls, administrative controls and personal protective equipment as required to reduce transmission risk
  • Procedures to investigate and respond to COVID-19 cases in the workplace
  • Provide COVID-19 training to employees
  • Provide testing to employees who are exposed to a COVID-19 case, and in the case of multiple infections or a major outbreak, implement regular workplace testing for employees in the exposed work areas
  • Exclusion of COVID-19 cases and exposed employees from the workplace until they are no longer an infection risk
  • Return to work criteria
  • Maintain records of COVID-19 cases and report serious illnesses and multiple cases to Cal/OSHA and the local health department, as required
    Cal/OSHA has posted a Model COVID-19 Prevention Program on its website for employers to use.

Q: What does the ETS require employers to communicate to employees?
A: Requirements include:

  • How to report COVID-19 symptoms, exposures and hazards to the employer without fear of reprisal
  • COVID-19 hazards in the workplace and the employer’s policies and procedures to address them
  • Any procedures the employer may have for accommodating employees with elevated risk factors for COVID-19, which can be found on the CDC’s website (this is an obligation to communicate about existing procedures, not to create new ones, although reassigning employees with elevated COVID-19 risk factors to jobs with less exposure risk is encouraged and may be required under federal and state disability laws)
  • How the employee can obtain testing for COVID-19, such as through the employer’s workplace-based testing program, or through the local health department, a health plan, or at a community testing center
  • Notice of potential exposure to COVID-19
  • Cleaning and disinfection protocols
  • How to participate in workplace hazard identification and evaluation

Q: What are the physical distancing requirements of the ETS?
A: An employer must ensure that employees maintain at least six feet of distance from other persons unless it is not possible, in which case employees should be as far from others as possible. Momentary contact closer than 6 feet while in movement, such as in a hallway or aisle, would not be considered a violation. An employer must be prepared to demonstrate to Cal/OSHA why physical distancing of at least six feet is not possible.
Methods of physical distancing include: telework or other remote work arrangements; reducing the number of persons in an area at one time, including visitors; visual cues such as signs and floor markings to indicate where employees and others should be located or their direction and path of travel; staggered arrival, departure, work, and break times; and adjusted work processes or procedures, such as reducing production speed, to allow greater distance between employees.

Q: How should an employer measure between people when implementing the physical distancing requirement?
A: The ETS does not specify a method of measuring 6 feet of physical distancing, or in the cases of workers being transported to and from work in a vehicle, 3 feet of physical distancing. Measuring the space between two peoples’ bodies or measuring the distance between two peoples’ breathing zones (distance between their heads) are both methods Cal/OSHA would accept.

Q: What are the engineering requirements if physical distancing is not possible?
A: In addition to maximizing physical distance, at fixed work locations an employer must install cleanable solid partitions that reduce the risk of aerosol transmission (such as Plexiglas barriers).

Q: What are the face covering requirements of the ETS?
A: The ETS requires employers to provide employees with face coverings (or reimburse employees for the cost) and ensure they are worn over the nose and mouth when indoors and when outdoors, and within 6 feet of another. Exceptions include: when an employee is alone in a room, when eating or drinking, when using a respirator or other respiratory protection, when an employee cannot use a face covering due to a medical or mental condition; if hearing impaired or communicating with a hearing-impaired person; or when specific work tasks cannot be performed with a face covering. Other measures to protect against COVID-19 infection must be implemented when face coverings cannot be used.

Q: What training must an employer provide employees under the ETS?
A: Employee training must cover:

  • Employer policies and procedures to protect employees from COVID-19 hazards
  • COVID-19 related benefit information, from either the employer or from federal, state or local government, that may be available to employees impacted by COVID-19. Information on COVID-19 benefits such as paid sick leave and workers’ compensation benefits is posted on the Department of Industrial Relations’Coronavirus Resources webpage.
  • The fact that COVID-19 is an infectious disease that can be spread through the air when an infectious person talks or vocalizes, sneezes, coughs, or exhales; that COVID-19 may be transmitted when a person touches a contaminated object and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth, although that is less common; and that an infectious person may show no symptoms
  • The importance of physical distancing and wearing face coverings
  • The fact that particles containing the virus can travel more than six feet, especially indoors, so physical distancing must be combined with other controls, including face coverings and hand hygiene, to be effective
  • The importance of frequent hand washing for at least 20 seconds and use of hand sanitizer when handwashing facilities are not available
  • Proper use of face coverings, and the fact that they are not respiratory protection
  • The symptoms of COVID-19 and the importance of not coming to work and getting tested if an employee has symptoms

Q: What are the testing requirements in the ETS?
A: An employer’s testing obligations are the following:

  • Inform all employees on how they can obtain testing. This could be through the employer, local health department, a health plan, or at a community testing center. The only obligation to all employees is to provide information.
  • Offer testing to an employee at no cost and during working hours in the event of a potential COVID-19 work-related exposure.
  • Provide periodic (at least weekly or twice per week depending on the magnitude of the outbreak) COVID-19 testing to all employees in an “exposed workplace” during an outbreak. 
  • Testing must be provided in a manner that ensures employee confidentiality.

Q: Is there a difference between “offer testing” and “provide testing” in the ETS?
A: No. The meaning is the same for both terms.

Q: Does the employer have to provide testing to employees at their work location?
A: No. The employer may provide testing to employees at a testing site separate from their work location.

Q: Can employers send their employees to a free testing site for testing (e.g., run by their county) and is this considered to be “at no cost to employees?”
A: Yes, as long as employees incur no cost for the testing. Ensuring that an employee does not incur costs would include paying employees’ wages for their time to get tested, as well as travel time to and from the testing site. It would also include reimbursing employees for travel costs to the testing site (e.g., mileage or public transportation costs).

Q: What does “during their working hours” or “during employees’ working hours” mean, in relation to providing COVID-19 testing?
A: These terms, as used in the regulations, mean that the test must be provided during paid time. While the employee must be compensated for their time and travel expenses, the employer is not obligated to provide the test during the employee’s normal working hours.

Q: What additional resources are available for employers and workers to understand the rule and comply?
A: Cal/OSHA has a number of resources in place and in development to assist with compliance with the ETS: