Farm and business groups are pushing for a more flexible approach in California’s workplace safety rules for COVID-19. Yet Cal/OSHA’s governing board, the state's regulator for these issues, has been reluctant to shelve its emergency standard.

In a recent hearing, policy advocates noted how the pandemic is evolving into an endemic phase, like the seasonal flu, and the Newsom administration has been shifting from emergency response to long-term management through its SMARTER Plan unveiled last month.

California Farm Bureau Labor Affairs Director Bryan Little told the board its current emergency standard cannot achieve the same degree of flexibility. He argued that employers and individuals are capable of taking their own safety precautions based on their comfortable risk levels.

Looking for the best, most comprehensive and balanced news source in agriculture? Our Agri-Pulse editors don't miss a beat! Sign up for a free month-long subscription.

Michael Miiller, who directs government relations for the California Association of Winegrape Growers, argued that the emergency standard was out of date almost as soon as the board adopted it. He said the governor has issued multiple executive orders to “clean up the problems” the standard generated and will need to do so at least once more this year.

Labor groups, however, viewed those orders as weakening the protections and worried that rolling back the mask mandate will lead to a surge in cases at produce and meat packing plants and leave farmworkers vulnerable in employer-supplied housing and transportation.