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Work Safety in Washington: Heat, Wildfire, and Smoke Protections for Outdoor Workers for the Summer of 2022

On June 1, 2022, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) announced a  new workplace safety guidance that increases heat and wildfire smoke protections for outdoor workers.

Heat, Wildfire, and Smoke Protections for Outdoor Workers 2022

At The Walthew Law Firm, we are strong advocates for worker safety as we believe everyone deserves a safe, healthy workplace. In this article, our Seattle workers’ comp. attorneys provide an overview of the guidance and its new enhanced workplace safety protections for outdoor workers in Washington State.

The Safety Issue: Concerns About Heat and Washington Air Quality in Summer Months

The average summer high temperatures are rising in Washington. For example, in the summer of 2021, Hanford, WA, hit 120 degrees—the highest temperature ever recorded in our state. During the same heatwave, the City of Seattle hit its highest ever record temperature of 108 degrees. As climate change continues to affect the globe, environmental scientists believe that more heat and record temperatures are in store for the Pacific Northwest.

To make matters even more challenging for our region, there is also a growing risk of wildfires and wildfire smoke. As explained by the Department of Ecology for the State of Washington, “Because of climate change, more frequent and intense wildfires are likely to become the new normal” in the western United States. As a result, these more frequent and intense wildfires and wildfire smoke will pose serious safety risks to everyone, including outdoor workers.

What to Know About the Enhanced Heat and Wildfire Smoke Protections

With their newly issued guidance on heat and wildfire smoke protections, Washington workplace safety regulators are taking proactive measures to protect the health and well-being of outdoor workers this summer. In a news release, L&I assistant director Craig Blackwood explained, “the record-setting heat wave last summer underscored the importance of protecting outdoor workers.” Here are three key points from L&I’s new guidance:

  1. The Guidance Applies from June 15 through September 30: L&I is putting temporary (emergency) outdoor worker safety regulations on heat exposure, wildfire smoke, and worker training in place for the Summer of 2022. These regulations took effect on June 15, 2022, and will end on September 30, 2022.
  2. Outdoor Heat Rules are In Effect When the Temperature Hits 89 Degrees: Employers who have outdoor workers must follow both the existing and emergency heat exposure rules when the temperature hits 89 degrees. Combined, the existing and emergency outdoor heat safety rules require employers to provide: 1) A minimum of one quart per hour of cool water for employees to drink, 2) An area of shade that is sufficiently large enough and close enough to outdoor workers, 3) A minimum of 10 minutes for a cool-down break for every two hours of outdoor work, and 4) encouragement of workers to hydrate, stay cool, and take breaks.
  3. Wildfire Smoke Safety Rules are in Full Effect When Air Quality Index Reaches 101: The Air Quality Index (AQI) measures how healthy the air is to breathe—with a lower number being safer. In Washington, poor outdoor air quality is frequently driven by wildfire smoke. When the AQI reaches 69, employers in our state are encouraged to take action to protect workers. When the AQI reaches 101 (poor air quality) employers are required to take action to limit worker exposure to wildfire smoke to the maximum extent feasible, including providing respirators at no cost for voluntary use. In the extreme case that wildfire smoke particles exceed 555 micrograms per cubic meter or greater than an AQI of 500 (an extremely hazardous level), outdoor workers must be provided with and required to wear a protective respirator.

Employers Must Comply with Outdoor Heat Exposure Rules in Washington

All employers in Washington that employ outdoor workers are required to comply with the outdoor heat exposure and wildfire smoke workplace safety regulations. As a result, a wide range of different industries are affected, including construction workers, farmworkers, facilities maintenance workers, road crews, and anyone else whose job requires them to frequently work outdoors. For employees, it is normal to have questions about their rights and the workers’ comp claims process, especially after suffering a heat or smoke related medical issue. Our law firm can answer questions about workers’ comp in Washington.

Call Our Seattle, WA Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Today

At The Walthew Law Firm, our Seattle workers’ comp attorneys are dedicated to protecting the rights and interests of injured workers. If you or your loved one was injured or made ill while working outdoors due to heat or wildfire smoke, we can help. Call us now or send us a message to set up a no cost, no commitment initial review of your case. From our Seattle law office location, we advocate for the rights of injured workers throughout the region.

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