L&I’s Emergency Response to Record-High Temperatures
There is no denying that it is hot this summer. The Pacific Northwest has seen record setting temperatures over the past few weeks. In response, Washington State’s Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) implemented new emergency rules for Washington employers to prevent employees from suffering heat-related illness.
The new rules went into effect on July 13, 2021 and will continue through September 30, 2021. These rules supplement existing rules that apply annually from May through September.
Who does this apply to?
All employers with employees working in an “outdoor environment” must comply with these requirements. Those employers must maintain sufficient PPE, training, prevention, and health and safety standards related to heat exposure for outside workers.
If you have any employee who is required to work in an “outside environment” for more than 15 minutes (even if non-consecutively) during any 60-minute period. Employees working inside vehicle cabs, sheds, and tents or other structures that are not air-conditioned are also considered to be working in an outdoor environment.
An employee is considered to suffer from heat-related illness when the body becomes unable to cope with the heat, such as heat cramps, heat rash, heat exhaustion, fainting, and heat stroke.
What are the standard rules?
From May 1 to September 30 annually, the following rules apply:
In general, employers must:
- Create and maintain a written Outdoor Heat Exposure Prevention Plan in their required Accident Prevention Program; Read more here.
- Train employees and supervisors annually on symptoms of outdoor heat exposure and policies in place to prevent heat-related illness.
What are the emergency rules?
In addition, when the temperature is higher than 89 degrees Fahrenheit, employers must:
- Provide and replenish a readily accessible supply of drinking water for employees (one quart per employee, per work hour), and individual cups/containers. Sports drinks or hydrating non-caffeinated beverages are also acceptable.
- Monitor employees showing signs of heat-related illness and relieve them from duty if necessary;
- Provide over-heated employees with sufficient means to cool down;
- Determine whether medical attention is necessary. See WAC 292-62-09540.
In addition, the following emergency rules apply from July 13, 2021, when the temperature is at or exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Maintain one or more shaded areas close to where employees are working and large enough to accommodate the number of employees on break; or
- Provide sufficient means for employees to cool down; and
- Require all employees to take a 10-minute preventative cool-down break every two hours (paid if outside a meal period). See WAC 296-62-09555.
The required shade may be artificial or natural, as long as it blocks direct sunlight and is cooler than a non-shaded area (i.e., a shaded vehicle sitting in the sun is not sufficient, unless air-conditioning is on.) Alternatively, employers may use other sufficient means so employees are able to cool off.
Under the rules, each employer, contractor, or subcontractor is responsible for their own employees. L&I designed these rules to protect the health and safety of employees and L&I may impose fines if an Employer fails to follow these rules.
Stay safe. Stay cool. And take care of your employees, so they can take care of your business.
If you have questions about how these rules may affect your business or need assistance in interpreting other rules from L&I, please reach out to the attorneys at WHC Attorneys.