Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.
On July 9, 2021, Washington’s Department of Labor & Industries filed an emergency rule to increase protection for employees exposed to extreme heat at work. This includes employees working in agriculture, construction, and other outdoor industries. The new regulations took effect on July 13, 2021.
Washington already has in place an Outdoor Heat Exposure rule, first established in 2008 and effective annually from May through the end of September. However, after the extreme heat experienced by the Pacific Northwest, the state has issued additional emergency rules. Washington will take steps to make these emergency rules a permanent part of its heat exposure standard in the coming months.
Rest Breaks. The emergency rules require that employees be allowed and encouraged to take preventive cool-down rest breaks when they feel they need to protect themselves from overheating. These breaks must be paid unless taken during a meal period.
Water. In addition to requiring that employees are provided with a sufficient quantity of drinking water as required by the existing rules, the emergency rules require that employers ensure the water provided is “suitably cool.”
Training. In addition to the training required by the existing rules, the emergency rules require that employers train employees on the procedure the employer is using to provide employees with sufficient means to reduce body temperature for the preventive cool-down rest period and the requirement for these periods during extremely high heat.
Extreme High Heat. When temperatures are at or exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit, employers are required to:
- have and maintain one or more areas with shade at all times while employees are present that are either open to the air or provided with ventilation or cooling and not adjoining a radiant heat source such as machinery or a concrete structure. The shaded area must be large enough to accommodate the number of employees on a meal or rest break. The shaded area must be located as close as practicable to where the employees are working.
- In lieu of shade, employers must use “other sufficient means” to reduce body temperature to accommodate all employees on a meal or rest break.
- Employers must ensure employees take a preventive cool-down rest period of at least ten minutes, every two hours. This may be concurrent with a meal or rest period.
Employers in Washington should review their existing outdoor heat exposure safety program to ensure compliance with these new, emergency rules. Employers should also revise their training for employees to comply with the new requirements and evaluate their worksites to ensure adequate shade and water are being provided to employees.