A new proposal to update Washington’s permanent heat rules would increase protections for agricultural, construction, and other workers exposed to dangerous outdoor temperatures on the job.
The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) filed the proposed update to the permanent heat rule last week, officially initiating the formal process for public input.
Current regulations in Washington mandate that employers implement an outdoor heat exposure safety program, which includes training, ensuring a minimum of one quart of suitable drinking water per hour is accessible to each worker, and responding appropriately to employees displaying symptoms of heat-related illnesses. The suggested amendments aim to incorporate additional preventative measures into these rules. By preventing workers from overheating, the risk of heat-related illnesses and traumatic injuries, such as falls from ladders, can be reduced.
Some of the updates to the proposed rule include:
- Updates to the existing temperature action levels to 80°F for most outdoor work, applying to specific portions of the rule such as drinking water and shade;
- Specifics on when and how much shade must be provided;
- Access to preventative cool-down periods as needed to prevent overheating;
- An acclimatization section requiring close observation of employees during heat waves, new workers, and those returning from absences; and
- High-heat procedures requiring close observation of employees and mandatory cool-down rest periods of 10 minutes every 2 hours at 90°F, and 15 minutes every hour at 100°F.
“Outdoor workers bear the brunt of hotter and hotter weather driven by climate change,” said Craig Blackwood, assistant director for L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health. “We’ve listened carefully to workers, businesses, and other stakeholders to develop proposed rules that create much safer conditions for Washington’s outdoor workforce. As we move to the formal comment period, we’re inviting public input to help shape the final product.”
Protecting outdoor workers from high temperatures
Current permanent heat rules were put in place by L&I in 2008. Acknowledging the need for more preventative measures in high heat, temporary emergency heat rules were in place over the past two years while the permanent rule was being updated. The current permanent rule is in effect annually from May through the end of September. The proposed permanent rule would be in effect year-round.
Public input opportunities
Before the anticipated adoption in June, L&I will conduct five in-person public hearings in communities around the state and one virtual public hearing to take comments. Details on how to attend the hearings or submit comments by mail, fax, or email, can be found on L&I’s rulemaking activity page. Public comments will be accepted through May 11.
L&I will review and consider comments submitted before making any needed adjustments and adopting the permanent rule.
To help employers comply with these and other rules, L&I provides a host of free resources. Visit L&I’s Heat Smart web page to get more information on the current Outdoor Heat Exposure rules and the proposed rule updates.