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Washington Department of Labor and Industries enacts emergency heat, wildfire smoke protection for outdoor workers

UPDATED: Wed., June 1, 2022

Construction workers build a structure at a job site off of Deer Heights Road near Airway Heights in June. The Washington state Department of Labor and Industries on Wednesday filed emergency heat and wildfire rules to protect outdoor workers this summer.  (Libby Kamrowski/The Spokesman-Review)
Construction workers build a structure at a job site off of Deer Heights Road near Airway Heights in June. The Washington state Department of Labor and Industries on Wednesday filed emergency heat and wildfire rules to protect outdoor workers this summer. (Libby Kamrowski/The Spokesman-Review)

Employers statewide will be required to take additional steps this summer to protect outdoor workers from heat and smoke.

The Washington state Department of Labor and Industries on Wednesday filed two emergency rules designed to protect farm and construction workers, roofers, road crews and outdoor workers from heat and wildfire smoke.

The emergency rules are in effect from June 15 through the end of September, according to a department release.

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

When temperatures are at or above 89 degrees, the emergency heat rules require employers to provide at least a quart of sufficient cool water per hour for employees; provide shade, an air-conditioned trailer or a misting station to workers; and require a paid, 10-minute cooldown break every two hours or as needed.

Employers must monitor temperatures and have a system in place to identify signs of heat-related illness, and determine if medical attention is needed, according to the department.

Because wildfire smoke contains fine particles that can cause serious health problems, the department’s emergency wildfire smoke rule requires employers to monitor air quality.

If the air quality index is 69 or above, employers are encouraged to provide enclosed buildings or vehicles with filtered air, increase rest periods or reduce or reschedule work.

Employers are also encouraged to provide respirators at no cost to the workers.

Employers are required to include wildfire smoke response and outdoor heat exposure in a written Accident Prevention Plan, and train employees on the hazards, mitigation steps and plans for responding to problems before working in heat or wildfire smoke, according to the department.

Dina Lorraine, a spokeswoman with the Department of Labor and Industries, said the department is in the process of gathering input via stakeholder meetings to develop permanent rules to address hazards from extreme heat and wildfire smoke.

The department surveyed employers and employees on their experience with last year’s emergency rules and presented research on health effects of smoke and heat to stakeholders.

“Our emergency rules are to provide better protections, in addition to our permanent rules,” Lorraine said.

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