N95 Face Mask

After Cal/OSHA’s Standards Board on June 3 approved revisions to the COVID-19 emergency standard, it voted a week later to withdraw those changes after a swift backlash to the rules. The current emergency standard took effect in November 2020.

The vote was held during a special meeting the board held on June 9 to consider the latest guidance regarding masking from the Centers for Disease Control and the California Department of Public Health. The reason for the meeting: many of the revisions to the emergency standard contradicted new CDPH rules that will allow most vaccinated people to be in most public settings without wearing a mask.

The Standards Board is charged with writing and implementing workplace safety regulations for California. The revisions to the COVID-19 emergency standard were slated to take effect on June 15.

While the new guidelines from the CDPH spare fully vaccinated people from wearing masks in public settings, they would still need to wear them in health care, long-term care, public transit and sheltering settings. However, the guidelines do not address workers.

Employer complaints

Employer groups complained that the new standard, which would require even vaccinated workers to wear masks unless they are in close proximity to only other colleagues who are vaccinated, contradicts the looser rules issued by the CDPH. If just one other colleague was unvaccinated, all vaccinated employees would have to don masks.

Employers had also complained about another part of the changes approved on June 3 that would require employers to stockpile N95 masks to provide to employees who have not been vaccinated for voluntary use.

They said that the choice of N95 masks, which are still in short supply, was especially onerous and the new rules did not specify how many of the masks an employer would have to keep.

What happens next?

As it stands, Cal/OSHA will review the new mask guidance from the CDC and CDPH and submit new emergency standard revisions to the Standards Board. The board may consider these new revisions at its next regular meeting scheduled for June 17.

In the meantime, the protections adopted in November will remain in effect. Remember, Cal/OSHA continues to inspect workplaces and cite employers that are not following the letter of the emergency standard.

Stay tuned and we’ll keep you informed of any decision the Cal/OSHA board makes.