(The Center Square) — Washington Department of Labor and Industries has proposed that emergency rules aimed at protecting workers from summer heat become permanent.
Under the emergency rule, heat protections are in place from June 15 to Sept. 29. During this period, employers are required to provide outdoor workers with cool water, access to shade, and a paid cooling break of 10 minutes every two hours when the temperature is 89 degrees or above.
For workers required to wear certain types of clothing, the heat threshold is lower. The protections must be offered to workers wearing vapor-barrier clothing such as a hazmat suit when the temperature is 52 degrees or higher. For workers wearing double-layer clothing such as coveralls, the threshold is 77 degrees.
This rule applies to employees working outdoors for at least 15 minutes during a 60-minute period.
This year Yakima recorded or is forecast to reach at least 89 degrees 40 days from June 15 to Sept. 29; Spokane, 33 days and Seattle, 9 days. In 2021, Yakima recorded temperatures of 89 degrees or higher four times before June 15; Spokane, twice.
The current L&I proposal would make the heat protections permanent and make certain adjustments to the existing rule.
Under the proposed rule change, the threshold temperature would remain 52 degrees for workers wearing vapor-barrier clothing but would be 80 degrees for all other employees. At that point, employers would be required to allow employees to take cooling breaks when they feel it is necessary, and to encourage employees to frequently drink small amounts of water.
The changed rule would require employers to closely observe employees for 14 days when they are newly acclimating to the heat or have returned to work after a 7-day absence.
Employers would be required to have a heat-illness prevention program that specifies procedures for providing cool drinking water, shade or other sufficient ways to reduce body temperature, emergency response procedures for employees suffering heat-related illness, acclimatization procedures, high heat procedures and procedures for observing employees for signs of illness.
A temperature of 90 degrees or above would trigger high-heat protection requirements, including close observation of employees for signs of heat illness and mandatory cooling periods that increase in length based on the temperature.
The proposed rule change was presented at a public stakeholder meeting on Aug. 4. A second stakeholder meeting will be conducted virtually on Aug. 31 at 1 p.m.
Comments on the proposed rule change can be directed to Carmyn Shute, Administrative Regulations Analyst, at Carmyn.Shute@Lni.wa.gov or 360-902-6081.