L&I poised to enact emergency outdoor heat and wildfire smoke rules

May 26, 2022
Written by WR Communications

The Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) is preparing to enact new emergency rules to protect workers under outdoor heat and wildfire smoke conditions.

Outdoor Heat (WAC 296-62-095) — In 2021, L&I adopted emergency rules to protect workers outdoors when ambient temperatures exceed 100 degrees F. However, this year’s rules will soon be triggered at 89 degrees F with many of the same features as last year’s emergency rule. In August 2021, L&I initiated permanent rulemaking; however, the permanent rulemaking process has not been completed. L&I plans to file around June 1 and should be providing an effective date for the rule by the middle of June, giving stakeholders time to see the rule change and plan before any enforcement begins. The new rules will include training and education requirements, ensuring employers provide adequate water, additional rest, and cool down periods for workers when needed.

Wildfire Smoke (WAC 296-62-085) — Following the massive 2020 wildfire season, L&I initiated rulemaking to protect workers from hazards created by wildfire smoke. The rulemaking was not completed; hence L&I adopted an emergency rule in July 2021 to cover last year’s wildfire season. Again, the permanent rulemaking process has not been completed. Accordingly, L&I announced its intent to adopt another emergency rule. The previous emergency rule includes employer responsibilities to determine hazard levels, hazard communications, information and training requirements, and the use of masks and voluntary filtration. The updated emergency rule will:

  • Lower the air quality index thresholds
  • Add options to determine the hazard level
  • Require, under defined circumstances, work to be enclosed in protected areas
  • Use of portable filtration
  • Use of respirators
  • Change to work schedules
  • Changes to work conditions

The Washington Retail Association (WR) understands the need to protect workers in outdoor settings under extreme heat conditions or wildfire smoke. L&I should “reinitiate” permanent rulemaking on the outdoor temperature and wildfire smoke rules. By regulating under emergency rules, L&I fails to articulate to stakeholders the rule rationale and doesn’t provide input opportunities to address practical implementation or ensure safe working conditions. WR urges L&I to convene and reinitiate permanent rulemaking on both issues.