While manufacturing companies have taken steps to rework their factories to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, there's a small but growing push to go further and have states and Washington mandate rules.
On July 15, Virginia become the first state to adopt emergency COVID-19 regulations for all workplaces, setting legally enforceable rules for things like protective gear and quick employee notification if a co-worker tests positive. Similarly, Oregon wants its own rules in place by September.
There's also a push in Washington to set national rules as part of the next round of COVID-19 legislation, before Congress recesses Aug. 7. Mostly it's been Democrats calling for that, but a few Republicans in recent days have signed on, too.
In Virginia, the state government said it was taking action to fill a void from Washington, but manufacturing groups and resin maker DuPont Co., which operates three plants there employing 2,000 people, questioned the state's July 15 action.
The Virginia Manufacturers Association echoed arguments made by the Trump administration that existing rules and industry-specific guidance give government proper enforcement authority and that new regulations are not needed.
VMA said it's worked to develop industry best practices, put together a COVID-19 model action plan and helped organize donations of personal protective equipment.
"[Virginia's Department of Labor and Industry] does not have information to assess or understand the implications this proposal will have on manufacturers or its supply chain," VMA said. "Employers, now three months into the COVID-19 pandemic, have already put into place procedures and controls that may be entirely undone … creating additional regulatory uncertainty that is impractical."
DuPont, which makes PET films, Tyvek-brand nonwoven high density polyethylene, nylon and other materials in Virginia, said it supports the need for extra precautions and "critical measures" to protect employees, but it argued that Virginia's new regulations "create concerns for many employers."
The company gave state officials a detailed list of what it called problem areas in the regulations, such as overly broad descriptions of COVID-19 symptoms that could lead to "just about every illness" being treated as a suspected case of the virus.
It suggested Virginia base its symptoms on a Centers for Disease Control list "to avoid abuse."
"Keeping the workplace safe, which has always been a cornerstone of our operation, has taken on new meaning during the past six months," David Johnson, plant manager of DuPont's Spruance facility in Richmond, wrote to state officials in comments.