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Washington L&I adopts emergency rules on heat and wildfire smoke

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Tumwater, WA — After a record-setting heat wave and numerous wildfires last summer, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries has issued emergency rules intended to protect workers exposed to outdoor heat and unhealthy air caused by wildfire smoke.

Announced June 1, the emergency rules will stay in effect through Sept. 30. Targeted workers include farm and construction workers, roofers, road crews, and other outdoor workers. Washington L&I says it’s taking steps to develop permanent rules to address the hazards.

Under the rule on outdoor heat, when the temperature reaches 89° F, employers must:

  • Offer enough cold water for each employee to drink at least a quart an hour.
  • Provide sufficient shade “large enough for and close enough to” outdoor workers.
  • Allow and encourage workers to take paid preventive cooldown breaks when needed.
  • Require a 10-minute, paid cooldown break every two hours.

The emergency rule on wildfire smoke is aimed at protecting workers from fine particles that can reach the deepest part of the lungs, worsening conditions such as asthma as well as adversely affecting heart health and other conditions. Employers must check the Air Quality Index and monitor workers who show signs of injury and illness to determine if medical care is needed.

 

If the AQI is at 69 or higher, employers are encouraged to reduce, reschedule or relocate work; provide enclosed buildings or vehicles with filtered air; and reduce work intensity or increase rest periods. When the AQI reaches 101 or higher, steps to limit workers’ exposure are required whenever feasible.

Washington L&I says it has presented findings on the health effects of heat and wildfire smoke to stakeholders, along with surveying employers and workers on their experiences with similar emergency rules issued last year. The agency will continue to conduct stakeholder meetings to gather input on draft language for the permanent rules.

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

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