New Heat & Smoke Rules Take Effect This Month For WA Employers

OLYMPIA, WA — The state Department of Labor & Industries signed new emergency rules Wednesday, mandating additional protections for Washington workers during high heat and wildfire smoke events. This year’s rules are similar to those put in place last year in the wake of a record-breaking and deadly run of heat across the Pacific Northwest.

“The record-setting heat wave last summer underscored the importance of protecting outdoor workers,” said Craig Blackwood, assistant director for L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health. “Add in the smoke from more frequent and devastating wildfires, which is a proven hazard, and it’s a recipe for danger every summer.”

While L&I continues to work on a permanent set of rules relating to heat and smoke, the pair of emergency regulations will be in place starting June 15 and lasting through September. During that time, employers will be required to monitor temperature and air quality and take steps to ensure their workers’ safety when heat or smoke readings cross specific thresholds.

Related: WA Looks Back On 2021 Fire Season And Prepares For The Next

Existing rules already require employers with outdoor workers to ensure water is regularly available, implement heat exposure safety training and have a response plan in place to help workers experiencing heat-related illnesses.

At temperatures at or above 89 degrees, L&I requires that employers:

  • Provide enough sufficiently cool water for each employee to drink at least a quart an hour.
  • Provide sufficient shade that is large enough for and close enough to workers.
  • Encourage and allow workers to take paid preventative cool-down breaks as needed.
  • Require a 10-minute, paid cool-down break every two hours.

L&I said the type of clothing workers wear also plays a role, and the temperature threshold in some instances could be lower. Companies must also have systems in place, including a “buddy rule,” or regular check-ins to monitor for signs of heat-related illnesses.

The rules for wildfire smoke are multi-pronged and change depending on the Air Quality Index (AQI). The earliest actions are encouraged when AQI readings hit 69 or higher, which falls within the moderate air quality range. At that point, L&I said employers should consider reducing, rescheduling or relocating work, providing an enclosed space with filtered air, reducing work intensity or adding more rest periods. Companies are also encouraged to provide their employees with respirators.

Once AQI readings hit 101 or higher — the “unhealthy for sensitive groups” range — providing respirators is mandatory, and L&I recommends more actions are taken to reduce worker exposure to dangerous air. The rules also require wildfire smoke and outdoor heat plans included in each employer’s accident prevention plans, along with added worker training.

L&I is still developing a permanent set of rules based on feedback from the 2021 rules, research findings and input from stakeholder groups.

More information on this year’s requirements for heat and smoke is available online.

Source: Bellevue Patch