The State of Washington Issues an Emergency Outdoor Heat Exposure Rule for Workers Following an Extreme Temperature Spike
Washington is now the third state to regulate outdoor work conditions under extreme heat.
- By Shereen Hashem
- Jul 14, 2021
The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries will soon require stricter precautions when it comes to working in the sunlight. The emergency rule requires employers to provide shade or other sufficient methods for employees to cool down. They must also have a paid cool-down rest period of at least 10 minutes every two hours. These requirements were put into action following a record-breaking heatwave across the Pacific Northwest. This sudden temperature change killed hundreds of people from Oregon through Canada.
According to an article, emergency rules go hand in hand with previous precautions and kick in once the temperature hits 89 degrees where employers will then have to provide workers with cool drinking water. However, once it reaches 100 degrees, employers will have to accommodate with the 10-minute resting rule, as mentioned previously, which went into effect July 13. Although, some farmworker advocates say it’s not enough.
"If you talk to workers out in the field, anything over 80 becomes really uncomfortable," said Edgar Franks, an organizer with Familias Unidas Por La Justicia, a farmworker union in Skagit County. “Especially if you're working under a piece rate system, where you're paid by your production — you're going as fast as you can," he said.
Washington is currently facing its second heat wave after its nearly weeklong triple-digit temperature spike of up to 109 degrees. According to an article, The emergency Outdoor Heat Exposure rule, *which went into effect Tuesday, clarifies proactive steps that employers must take to prevent outdoor workers from suffering heat-related illness. It updates existing rules that are valid annually from May through September. The rules already require easy access to at least one quart of drinking water for each 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 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. “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.”
Shereen Hashem is the Associate Content Editor for Occupational Health & Safety magazine.