TUMWATER, Wash. - After a historic heat wave in the Pacific Northwest, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries introduced increased protections for outdoor workers.
The emergency exposure heat rules will require employers to take extra precautions to prevent heat-related illness, especially for employees exposed to extreme heat outdoors like in agriculture and construction.
At least 78 people died during Washington state’s record-breaking heat wave.
A year earlier, Washington had just seven heat-related deaths from mid-June to the end of August, the state Department of Health said Thursday. From 2015 to 2020, there were a total of 39 deaths.
A majority of the deaths from this year’s late June heat wave were in King and Pierce counties, and 19 of the state’s 30 counties have reported heat-related deaths, officials said.
"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."
According to L&I, the additional regulations will go into effect on July 13. When the temperature exceeds 100 degrees, employers will be required to:
• Provide shade or another sufficient means for employees to cool down; and
• Ensure workers have a paid cool-down rest period of at least 10 minutes every two hours.
When the temperature reaches 89 degrees, employers must:
• Provide water that is cool enough to drink safely;
• Allow and encourage workers to take additional paid preventative cool-down rest to protect from overheating;
• Be prepared by having a written outdoor heat exposure safety program and providing training to employees; and,
• Respond appropriately to any employee with symptoms of heat-related illness.
"The recent heat wave is a reminder that extreme temperatures can be a real danger in the workplace. With more hot weather on the way, we’re taking action now," said L&I Director Joel Sacks. "The emergency rule clarifies existing requirements and outlines commonsense steps employers must take to keep the workers who are responsible for growing our food, paving our roads, and putting up our buildings safe on the job."
The new regulations update existing rules during the warmest months of the year from May through September. Those rules already require "ready access to at least one quart of drinking water per worker per hour, an outdoor heat exposure safety program with training, and an appropriate response to workers who are experiencing heat-related illness symptoms."
Washington has about 55 workers' compensation claims per year for heat-related illnesses.
Tips from L&I: "If you work outside, remember to start your workday fully hydrated, drink at least a quart of water every hour, know the early warning signs of heat stress and pay close attention to how you are feeling, and take regular breaks to cool yourself down. If you feel sick, stop working, move to a shaded place if possible, and tell someone so they can help monitor your symptoms or get help."
Stay connected with Q13 News on all platforms:
The Associated Press contributed to this report.