The heatwave that hit western North America last month brought the region some of the hottest temperatures in recorded history. On June 28, 2021, Seattle hit a temperature of 108 degrees—the highest ever recorded in the city. Soon after, the weather station at the Mayfield Power Plant in Lewis County hit 118 degrees, the hottest on record in Washington State. Records were also broken in Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia.
The record high temperatures produced dangerous, life-threatening conditions—particularly for Washington’s outdoor workers. On July 9, 2021, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) announced emergency heat exposure rules to protect workers. In this blog post, our Seattle workers’ comp lawyers highlight the key things to know about Washington’s emergency heat exposure protection for outdoor workers.
Five Things Washington Workers Should Know About L&I’s Emergency Heat Exposure Rules
The Northwest heatwave resulted in more than 300 deaths throughout the Greater Pacific Northwest region, including at least 78 in Washington State. L&I took action to implement new workplace safety rules. Those rules ensure that people who work outdoors are properly protected from extreme heat. Here are five key things to know about Washington’s new workplace safety rules for outdoor workers:
- New Workplace Safety Rules for When Temperature is 100 Degrees or Higher: The new regulations include two new rules for when temperatures reach at least 100 degrees outside. First, employers must provide shade or other sufficient means to allow workers to cool down throughout the workday. Additionally, employers must provide workers an additional 10-minute rest/cooldown break for every two hours of outdoor work. Triple-digit heat temperature is relatively rare in Washington, and employers need to be ready to respond to these dangerous conditions.
- New Workplace Safety Rules for When Temperature is 89 Degrees or Higher: Employers are also subject to four new regulations. First, they must ensure that all workers have enough cool water to drink. Next, employers should encourage workers to take advantage of all of their paid cooldown rest time and have a written outdoor heat exposure/training plan in place to ensure worker safety. Finally, employers must respond appropriately when any worker has complaints or symptoms of a heat-related illness.
- The New Regulations Took Effect on July 13, 2021: Washington’s new workplace safety regulations for outdoor workers took effect on July 13, 2021. Employers have a legal responsibility to comply with these and all other workplace regulations to keep their workers safe.
- Washington has Dozens of Heat-Related Worker’ Comp Claims Per Year: Even though Washington is a northern state, it still sees plenty of heat-related illnesses. According to the press release from L&I, there is an average of 55 heat-related workers’ comp claims filed each year. Alarmingly, that number has been rising in recent years as our state has seen unusually hot temperatures in the summer months. By following proper safety procedures, employers can go a long way towards reducing risks to workers.
- State Officials are Worried About Climate Change: State officials are worried that the long-term effects of climate change will mean that extreme heatwaves will become more common in the coming years. For that reason, state officials wanted to improve workplace safety rules in place now. As Washington Governor Jay Inslee explained in a recent news release, “…the real impacts of climate change have changed conditions since those rules were first written and we are responding.”
Protect yourself and others by knowing your rights when your job requires working outside in extreme heat.
Get Help from a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer in Washington
At The Walthew Law Firm, our Seattle workers’ compensation attorneys are committed to providing the highest level of representation to our clients. If you have any questions about Washington’s emergency heat exposure regulations for outdoor workers, we can help. For a no cost, no obligation review of your case, please do not hesitate to contact us today. From our legal offices in Seattle and Everett, we serve communities throughout the region, including in King County, Snohomish County, Mason County, Kitsap County, Thurston County, Pierce County, and Lewis County.