COVID Ag Safety Bill Passes Assembly Despite Industry Opposition

Brian German Agri-Business, Legislative

The COVID ag safety bill known as AB 2043 has been approved by the state Assembly and will now be heard in Senate committees.  The legislation would require that guidelines issued by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) Standards Board be adopted statewide without any consideration of local county guidance. A group that includes several agricultural industry organizations have highlighted several points in the bill that would be problematic if put into effect.

COVID Ag Safety - AB 2043

“By codifying evolving guidelines, creating an overlaying standard, and relying on county guidelines as well, this bill would create confusion in the workplace as employers try to determine what is required of them to best protect employees. While this is not the intent of the bill, it would ultimately put employees at risk,” the coalition stated in the floor alert in opposition to the bill. “AB 2043 is unnecessary and would not improve safety. Instead, this bill would create workplace confusion which could ultimately put workers at risk.”

Some of the industry groups that have voiced opposition to AB 2043 include Western Growers Association, California Farm Bureau Federation, Agricultural Council of California, and the California Association of Winegrape Growers. The coalition notes that the bill would establish an inflexible standard in a situation that remains relatively fluid as more information and solutions continue to become available.

The COVID ag safety bill that is formally known as the Agricultural Workplace Health & Safety Act was passed in the Assembly by a vote of 55 to 15. The industry groups note that the bill would only further complicate safety measures by implementing a broad set of guidelines which may not be appropriate in all areas. “For example, this bill would require packing houses to comply with a guidance for employees handling livestock. Additionally, it would apply a food processing guidance to vineyard operations. This makes no sense,” the letter states.

The coalition also points out that AB 2043 is redundant considering Cal/OSHA already has enforcement authority for existing guidance.  A petition was already filed for the adoption of an emergency regulation in response to COVID-19, which wound make the bill unnecessary.

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Brian German

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Ag News Director, AgNet West