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Most California workers will remain masked under revised rules


For the board’s vote, the new rules were strongly criticized by business groups. Board members clarified that the rules are temporary, while they consider further easing of pandemic rules in the coming weeks or months.

Opponents of requiring masks for workplaces have already suggested Governor Gavin Newsom could use his executive powers to override his decision amid criticism that the revised rules are due to his promise to lift most pandemic restrictions on June 15. are opposite.

Newsom spokeswoman Erin Mellon did not mention that option in a brief statement after the vote. She said the panel is independent, but the governor “expects the board to further revise its guidance to reflect the latest science while balancing realistic and enforceable requirements for workers’ safety and that of employers.”

The seven-member board that sets standards for the California Department of Occupational Safety and Health, known as Cal/OSHA, is appointed by the governor. Board Executive Officer Christina Schupe told members that even after the board gives more direction to Cal/OSHA employees, any more significant changes could take place until at least August.

The board said in a statement that its changes eliminate physical distancing requirements and make other changes “to better align with the state’s June 15 target” of wide-opening the economy.

Without the changes, the current pandemic workplace standards would have been required until at least October. But the board said restrictions are not needed given the low case rate and the growing number of fully vaccinated residents.

The board initially rejected the revised masking rules for employees by a 4-3 vote. But members reconsidered when they realized that employees would be dropped off at workplaces, which are subject to current standards requiring masks for all employees, along with social distancing and division among employees in certain circumstances. .

Board members unanimously adopted the amended rules to give a newly appointed three-member subcommittee time to consider more changes.

“We don’t want to leave last place when it’s better than that,” said board chairman David Thomas.

The board’s masks, repeatedly, again made decisions after major business groups and dozens of individuals urged the board to further lift pandemic rules.

“We have to create fair and enforceable standards,” said board member Nola Kennedy, in an early no vote. “I don’t think this offer is there yet.”

Board member Kate Crawford was also initially opposed, saying the amendment should more closely follow recent guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The guidance says that people who are fully vaccinated can skip face coverings and distancing in almost all situations. The state is set to follow up on that recommendation on June 15.

For some members, who initially rejected the amendment, the deal-killer was a requirement that employers stock N95 masks for workers who want them starting July 1.

Several employer groups said the requirement would be impractical, costly and would tie up with the millions of masks needed by health care workers.

The board plans to consider its next steps to further revise the requirements during its June 17 meeting, but further amendments to the rules will be a lengthy process. It created a new three-member subcommittee to help its employees prepare new revisions, which must be prepared by Cal/OSHA employees before public review.

Without another amendment, the revised rules could remain in place as early as next year, even if California’s coronavirus cases have fallen dramatically after a severe winter spike and as more people are vaccinated.

The workplace rules are in stark contrast to the state’s plan to completely reopen in less than two weeks and do away with nearly all mask and distancing requirements for vaccinated people.

More than three dozen agribusiness opponents said in a letter before the board’s vote that the revised rules put Newsom “in the awkward position of requiring Newsom to issue an executive order to correct a recent action taken by the Newsom Administration state agency.” will put it.”

Newsom, a Democrat, is facing a possible recall election this fall, largely driven by frustration over the restrictions he has put in place during the pandemic. He has reopened the cornerstone of his response to the state general on June 15.

Newsom was noncommittal before the vote, but noted that Cal/OSHA should apply its rules to a wide variety of businesses — including places like meatpacking facilities that were particularly hard hit by the virus.

Cal/OSHA rules apply to nearly every workplace in the state, including employees working in offices, factories, and retail operations. Its pandemic rules apply to all employees except those working from home or where one employee has no contact with others.

“Cal/OSHA is different from the rest of the country,” said Andrew Somer, on behalf of the California Employers COVID-19 Prevention Coalition, ahead of the vote.

Safety Board staff member Eric Berg said the revised rules recognize larger differences between employees and the public, including “prolonged cumulative exposure” to employees in the workplace compared to casual social contact.

The revised rules were supported by worker advocates and unions, including teamsters, machinists, utility workers, engineers, nurses and other health care workers and school workers.

“Workplace is not the same as having a dinner party or deciding to go to the gym or watch a movie,” said Maggie Robbins, an occupational health expert at WorkSafe Inc., an Oakland-based activist advocacy group. “There’s a lot of work to be done before we have a sufficiently immune population where we can relax more controls.”

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Associated Press writer Olga R. Rodriguez contributed from San Francisco.

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Most California workers will remain masked under revised rules