Senate Convenes Oversight Hearing on COVID-19 Workplace Health and Safety

On Wednesday, the Senate Special Committee on Pandemic Emergency Response convened an oversight hearing on workplace health and safety issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. The hearing featured two panels with the first focused on state activities related to prevention, outbreaks, and enforcement activities from representatives of the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR), California Division of Occupational Health and Safety (Cal/OSHA), and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). The second panel featured perspectives from essential workers and employee labor unions.

In opening comments, Special Committee Chairwoman Senator Lena Gonzalez referenced workplace-related infections and tragedies related to COVID-19 throughout the state, as well as disproportionate health impacts from COVID-19 experienced by workers in meat packing, healthcare, grocery and agriculture, and garment making. The state panel highlighted the role of state agencies and departments in protecting workers, enforcing labor laws and regulations, inspecting workplaces, and providing guidance and support to employers. Representatives from California DIR and Cal/OSHA discussed technical assistance and education efforts among essential worker employers, strategic enforcement efforts, and partnership efforts with other state agencies and departments.

CDPH discussed the role of the department in responding to and providing support to local health departments to respond to workplace outbreaks, deployment of specialized disease investigation teams, availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) availability, efforts to make available employee testing, and issuance of guidance and checklists to employers statewide. State representatives additionally discussed planning efforts for implementation of AB 685 (Reyes) that was recently signed into law and will require employers to notify employees of potential COVID-19 exposures and notify local health departments of workplace outbreaks.

The second panel of the hearing featured perspectives of numerous essential workers who have experienced workplace health and safety concerns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Employee and employee representatives discussed workplace hazards experienced due to a lack of COVID-19 precautions, limited PPE availability, inadequate workplace protocols, and unclear exposure notification processes. Panelists highlighted disproportionate health, social, and economic impacts experienced by essential workers during the pandemic, namely among people of color and immigrants.

During committee member questions, Senators queried the state on topics including but not limited to workplace closures due to the lack of COVID-19 safety precautions, state staffing, state agency and department enforcement mechanisms, employer-employee relations, business operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic and seasonal influenza, and employer and employee workplace health and safety reporting processes.

The agenda from the hearing is available here. A background paper is available here. A video recording of the hearing is available here.