Extreme heat and smoke protections for workers in place until September
The Washington Department of Labor and Industries is requiring employers to protect outdoor workers from heat and wildfire smoke this summer. This year’s rules were deployed using an emergency process, while the agency works to create permanent regulations protecting outdoor workers.
Last summer in Washington, 157 people died from heat-related illnesses. Several of them were outdoor workers.
Despite predictions that this summer will be cooler than last year’s, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries is keeping worker protections with a few small changes. In a news release, agency leaders say the restrictions are needed to protect workers because the combination of heat and prolonged wildfire smoke exposure is a danger every summer.
Employers are required to provide workers with accommodations at 52 degrees if workers wear non-breathable clothing, at 77 degrees if workers wear double layered clothing, and at 89 degrees regardless of what workers wear. Last summer the threshold for most protections was 100 degrees.
During hot days, employers must provide shade for breaks and meals, cool water, and a way for employees to communicate by radio, cell phone or the buddy system so they can monitor each other for heat-related illnesses.
For wildfire smoke, employers must provide respirators when the air quality index surpasses 101, which is when air is unhealthy for sensitive groups.
These rules went into effect Wednesday, and will last until the end of September. They apply to farm, roofing and construction workers, and other jobs where employees are required to spend most of their time outdoors.