After flip-flop votes, OSHA still considering workplace mask mandate

Coronavirus

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the OSHA board’s reversal of its original decision on the proposed rules.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Conflicted California workplace regulators approved controversial rules that allow workers to go maskless only if every employee in a room is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

But the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board made clear Thursday night that the regulations are only a stopgap while they consider further easing pandemic rules in coming weeks or months.

The board initially voted 4-to-3 to reject any changes to current rules.

But chairman David Thomas said that would have left employers with the current rules, which require masks for all employees, along with social distancing and partitions between employees in certain circumstances.

Moments later, the seven-member board unanimously adopted the revised regulations while a three-member subcommittee considers more changes.

“It’s better than the previous one, because that’s what we’re going back to” if the board didn’t act, Thomas said. “We don’t want to leave the last one in place when this is better than that.”

The off-again, on-again decisions came after major business groups and dozens of individuals spent hours urging the board to further lift pandemic regulations.

Members who initially rejected the revision said they are concerned that it doesn’t go far enough or that it requires employers to stockpile the most effective N95 facemasks for employees who want them starting July 1.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has the power to override the rules, weighed in at a separate event in San Francisco.

“The workplaces they’re protecting like meatpacking facilities larger industrial facilities have a different set of challenges and criteria and so OSHA always mindful of that, I’ll be mindful of that in terms of making any subsequent decisions,” he said. “We’ll see where they land today and will have more to say after I read the final determination.”

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