Vigilant Blog

News, trends and analysis in employment law, HR, safety & workers' comp

Jul 12, 2021

ALERT: Washington heat illness rules expand as of July 13, 2021

Safety and Health 

Expanded requirements for protecting Washington workers from outdoor heat exposure take effect on July 13, 2021. Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) announced the changes on July 9, 2021, stating that these emergency rules are necessary immediately to enhance protections against heat illness for outdoor workers.

Washington already has outdoor heat exposure rules for both general industry (WAC 296-62-095 to 296-62-09560) and agriculture (WAC 296-307-097 to 296-307-09760). These existing rules are identical and are in effect each year from May 1 through September 30, when employees are exposed to outdoor heat that equals or exceeds the following temperatures:

  • 89°F for most outdoor workers, such as those wearing single-layer clothing;
  • 77°F for outdoor workers wearing double-layer woven clothes such as coveralls, jackets, and sweatshirts; and
  • 52°F for outdoor workers wearing nonbreathable clothes (including vapor barrier clothing or personal protective equipment (PPE) such as chemical resistant suits).

The emergency rules make identical changes to the general industry and agriculture outdoor heat exposure rules, as follows:

Water temperature: The drinking water that you provide must be “suitably cool” in temperature.

Shade: A definition of shade has been added to the rules, stating that shade must block direct sunlight. Shade isn’t adequate when heat in the shaded area defeats the purpose of allowing the body to cool, such as when a car is sitting in the sun without air conditioning.

Duty to encourage preventative cool-down rest periods: You must allow and encourage employees to take preventative cool-down rest periods any time they feel it’s necessary to protect themselves from overheating. This time off must be paid unless it’s taken during a meal period.

Extreme high heat procedures: A new section has been added on what to do when temperatures reach 100 °F or higher.

  • In general, you must provide one or more shaded areas at all times when employees are present. The area must either be open to the air or provided with ventilation or cooling, and it cannot be next to a radiant heat source such as machinery or a concrete building. The amount of shade must be large enough to shelter the number of employees taking a meal or rest period at the same time. The shade must be located as close as practicable to employees’ work areas.
  • As an alternative to providing shade, you may use “other sufficient means to reduce body temperature” as long as you have enough to take care of all employees on a meal or rest period.
  • You must ensure that all employees take preventative cool-down rest periods of at least 10 minutes every two hours. These rest periods may coincide with regular meal and rest periods and must be paid unless they’re taken during a meal period.

Training: The existing training requirements on preventing outdoor heat illness must now include training on your procedure for providing employees with time to cool down. You must cover both employee-initiated preventative cool-down rest time (which employees may take whenever they feel the need to do so) as well as the mandatory preventative cool-down rest periods of at least 10 minutes every two hours (when temperatures are 100 °F or higher).

Tips: Some sections of the existing rules weren’t changed by the emergency rule and therefore aren’t displayed in the “tracked changes” that L&I provided to show the expanded requirements. The only way to have a complete picture of Washington’s requirements to protect outdoor workers from heat illness is to start with the “scope and purpose” section of the existing rules (WAC 296-62-09510 for general industry and WAC 296-307-09710 for agriculture) and walk through each of the sections that follow, in addition to reviewing the expanded requirements.

These emergency rules will remain in effect through September 30, 2021, consistent with the rest of Washington’s heat illness rules which are in effect from May 1 through September 30 of each year. L&I intends eventually to make permanent changes to the rules through a separate process, in which members of the public will have an opportunity to provide input. The agency hasn’t yet filed the paperwork to begin its permanent rulemaking process. For now, if you have any outdoor workers, familiarize yourself with the revised rules and put procedures in place to comply immediately.

Washington doesn’t impose specific standards for indoor workers, although a separate section of the general industry regulations (WAC 296-62-09013) says you must protect workers from “temperature extremes, radiant heat, humidity, or air velocity combinations” that are likely to make them ill. In addition, all employers have a general duty to protect workers from hazardous working conditions.

Washington isn’t the only state with specific heat exposure rules. If you have workers in California, see the Cal/OSHA heat illness prevention web page and heat illness e-tool. If you have workers in Oregon, see our recent Alert on Oregon’s emergency heat illness prevention rule. For workers in states that don’t have their own heat stress regulations, such as Arizona, Idaho, and Montana, be aware that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) treats heat stress under the general duty clause. If you have any questions about compliance and strategies for preventing heat illness for your workers, contact your Vigilant safety professional.

This website presents general information in nontechnical language. This information is not legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific management decision, consult legal counsel.