Washington State Employers Face New Rules to Protect Workers from Outdoor Heat Exposure

By Karen F. Tynan, Kathryn P. Fletcher and Emma A. Healey © Ogletree Deakins June 16, 2022

With summer weather and wildfire season approaching, Washington State employers will have new seasonal workplace safety rules to take into account.

On June 1, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries adopted emergency rules that add to already existing protections for outdoor workers from the summer conditions of heat exposure and wildfire smoke. Both emergency rules will take effect on June 15.

Outdoor Heat Exposure

Under the existing rule, employers with outdoor workers are required to maintain outdoor heat-exposure prevention plans, provide annual heat-exposure training to employees and supervisors to prevent illness, and increase the amount of drinking water available to workers and opportunities to drink it. The existing rule is effective annually between May 1 and September 30.

Under the emergency amendments to the existing rule, Washington employers are required to take extra precautions, which include:

  • ensuring a sufficient quantity of suitably cool drinking water is readily accessible to employees at all times;
  • providing access to shade or comparable opportunities to reduce body temperature, which could include air-conditioned spaces or vehicles;
  • educating workers about the importance of preventative cool-down periods to protect against overheating, and paying employees during those preventative periods;
  • mandating paid cool-down rest periods of 10 minutes every two hours when the temperature is 89 degrees Fahrenheit or higher;
  • implementing a system by which employees can communicate with their supervisor when necessary (e.g., cell phones in areas with reliable service);
  • closely observing employees for signs of heat-related illness; and
  • training employees about the requirements under the emergency rule.

This list is not exhaustive. The existing rule requires additional measures, such as ensuring sufficient hydration levels, prioritizing acclimatization, which is further defined in the emergency amendments as a period of seven to 14 days, and providing specific employee and supervisor training, including identifying signs of heat-related illness and determining whether medical attention is needed. Employers may want to review and understand their obligations under the heat-exposure rule before the June 15 effective date.

Wildfire Smoke

Washington joins California and Oregon in requiring employers to take specific preventative measures to ensure worker safety when workers will be exposed to wildfire smoke.

Under Washington's emergency rule, employers are required to monitor the Air Quality Index (AQI) and take specific action when workers are exposed to levels of 69 or higher. Additional requirements are imposed when the AQI measures from 101 and 500, and higher than 500.

For example, Washington employers must:

  • monitor worksite AQI,
  • establish hazard communication systems with employees,
  • maintain wildfire smoke response plans tailored to their specific workplaces within their written accident prevention programs,
  • provide specific information and implement training programs for employees and supervisors,
  • monitor employees for symptoms of exposure, and
  • ensure prompt medical treatment when necessary.

Washington employers also may be required to provide respiratory protection to employees free of charge when certain AQI levels are observed.

Karen F. Tynan is an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Sacramento, Calif. Kathryn P. Fletcher and Emma A. Healey are attorneys with Ogletree Deakins in Seattle. © 2022 Ogletree Deakins. All rights reserved. Reposted with permission.



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