Heat illness, Regulatory Developments

Washington Heat, Smoke Rules Take Effect

Washington’s state outdoor heat exposure and wildfire smoke rules became effective June 15 and remain in effect through the end of September, the Department of Labor and Industries announced.

The department has adopted emergency heat exposure requirements that include:

  • Providing adequate shade (or alternatives) and water suitably cool for drinking;
  • Encouraging and allowing workers to take paid, preventive cool-down rest periods so they don’t overheat;
  • Providing paid, mandatory cool-down rest periods of 10 minutes every 2 hours when temperatures are 89° Fahrenheit (F) or hotter;
  • Implementing methods for employees and supervisors to communicate about and observe signs and symptoms of heat illness when temperatures are 89°F or hotter; and
  • Training workers and supervisors regarding emergency response to heat illnesses.

Employers in Washington must create outdoor heat exposure prevention plans as part of their state-required accident prevention programs. They also must provide annual employee and supervisor training on the symptoms of outdoor heat exposures and the employers’ policies to prevent heat-related illness. Employers also must be prepared to respond to employee heat illnesses.

Wildfire smoke

The emergency wildfire smoke rule requires employers to monitor air quality and take certain steps when outdoor workers are exposed to wildfire smoke and the Air Quality Index (AQI) is at 101 or higher. The AQI, developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is an indicator of overall air quality based on pollutants regulated under the Clean Air Act.

Some actions are required under the Washington emergency wildfire smoke rule at an AQI of 69.

If the AQI is at 69 or higher, employers are encouraged to limit their workers’ exposure to smoke by:

  • Reducing, rescheduling, or relocating work;
  • Providing enclosed buildings or vehicles where the air is filtered; and
  • Reducing the work intensity or increasing rest periods.

When the AQI is at 101 or higher, employers must take steps to limit workers’ exposure to smoke whenever feasible.

When particulates from wildfire smoke are measured at 555 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) or higher—a rare but hazardous condition beyond the top of the AQI scale of 500—employees must be provided with and required to wear protective respirators.

Washington is in the process of developing permanent heat and wildfire smoke rules.

There are no federal heat and wildfire smoke rules, but the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a rulemaking to establish a standard for heat exposure in indoor and outdoor settings. OSHA issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking on October 27, asking for stakeholder input on effective heat injury and illness prevention programs and controls, both engineering and administrative controls; acclimatization protocols; and monitoring methods.

The federal agency also established a national emphasis program (NEP) of outreach, inspection, and enforcement on April 8 to address the occupational health hazards of excessive heat.

The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division (Oregon OSHA) recently unveiled permanent heat and wildfire smoke standards, which take effect June 15 and July 1, respectively. The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) also has heat illness prevention and wildfire smoke exposure standards.

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