Injuries and Illness, Personnel Safety

Washington State Unveils New Heat Exposure Rules

As extreme heat continues to punish much of the U.S., states are enacting additional rules to require employers to increase protections for outdoor workers. One such state is Washington, which on July 13 released emergency heat exposure rules for employees exposed to extreme heat, including those working in agriculture, construction, and other outdoor industries.

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) filed an emergency Outdoor Heat Exposure rule, which clarifies proactive steps that employers must take to prevent outdoor workers from suffering heat-related illness.

“The heat experienced in our state this year has reached catastrophic levels. The physical risk to individuals is significant, in particular those whose occupations have them outdoors all day,” said Gov. Jay Inslee in a release. “Our state has rules in place to ensure these risks are mitigated, however, the real impacts of climate change have changed conditions since those rules were first written and we are responding.”

The new regulations are in addition to existing state rules. When the temperature is at or above 100 degrees, employers must respond by:

  • Providing shade or another sufficient means for employees to cool down, and
  • Ensuring workers have a paid cool-down rest period of at least 10 minutes every two hours

When temperatures are at or above 89 degrees, the new rules combined with existing rules to require employers to:

  • Provide water that is cool enough to drink safely
  • Allow and encourage workers to take additional paid preventive cool-down rest to protect from overheating
  • Be prepared by having a written outdoor heat exposure safety program and providing training to employees, and
  • Respond appropriately to any employee with symptoms of heat-related illness

The emergency rules update existing rules in place annually from May through the end of September. The existing rules already require ready access to at least one quart of drinking water per worker per hour, an outdoor heat exposure safety program with training, and an appropriate response to workers who are experiencing heat-related illness symptoms.

The L&I will file an official notification for permanent rulemaking, which is the first step in the process of updating the existing state Outdoor Heat Exposure rule established in 2008.

The state’s Be Heat Smart page provides links to safety training materials including videos, online training, workshops and events, safety posters and publications, training kits, and toolbox talks about heat safety.