Washington state emergency heat exposure rule to take effect July 13

Employers must take additional precautions to prevent heat-related illness

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) filed an emergency rule today (July 9, 2021) to provide increased protection for employees exposed to extreme heat, including those working in the construction industry. The emergency Outdoor Heat Exposure rule clarifies proactive steps that employers must take to prevent outdoor workers from suffering heat-related illness.

The new regulations, which take effect on July 13, are in addition to existing rules. When the temperature is at or above 100 degrees, employers must respond to the extreme heat by:

  • Providing shade or another sufficient means for employees to cool down; and
  • Ensuring workers have a paid cool-down rest period of at least 10 minutes every two hours.
  • When temperatures are at or above 89 degrees, the new rules combined with existing rules require employers to:
    • 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 emergency rules update existing rules that are in place annually from May through the end of September. The existing 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.

L&I will file an official notification for permanent rulemaking. Known as a CR-101, the notification is the first step in the process of updating the existing state Outdoor Heat Exposure rule established in 2008.

Working outdoors in hot weather is a health hazard that can result in serious medical conditions, including disability or death. Washington has on average 55 workers’ compensation claims per year for heat-related illnesses.

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.

In the coming months, L&I will gather information from stakeholders to help create an initial draft of the updated Outdoor Heat Exposure rule. Like all permanent rulemaking processes, there will be opportunities for public input during the process. Contact Justin Wood, BIA Government Affairs Coordinator, to stay updated on this process.

Visit L&I’s Be Heat Smart web page for additional steps employers can take to protect employees working in hot temperatures.