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Sep 17, 2020

WASHINGTON: COVID-19 temporary worker housing rules updated

COVID-19Safety and HealthWorkers’ Comp 

On September 10, 2020, Washington’s Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) and the Department of Health (DOH) extended and modified existing COVID-19 (coronavirus) safety rules for temporary worker housing (TWH) in the agriculture industry. As a reminder, the larger framework for agriculture COVID-19 safety compliance in Washington continues to be Proclamation 20-57.1, and the implementing requirements for worksites, which we reported on here. Many rules in these new TWH requirements are the same as the original TWH rules we reported on, which took effect on May 18, 2020, and were set to expire on September 10, 2020, but significant new items are noted below and listed first.

Effective and expiration dates: The new rules are effective September 10, 2020, and are set to expire on January 8, 2021. Be aware, however, that L&I and DOH intend to make permanent changes to the TWH rules to address future pandemic risks.

Isolation of workers in TWH: Housing operators must report to L&I any time an occupant is placed in isolation due to COVID-19 within 24 hours after the placement, and operators using third-party isolation facilities (e.g., hotels or government-run centers) must ensure compliance with the isolation requirements before transporting the worker to the site. The remainder of the rules in this area reflect the broader requirements we previously reported on, including the provision of adequate isolation facilities when needed, a licensed health care professional visiting the worker twice per day at the employer’s expense, minimum care during the visits, access to a telephone, access to advanced life support within 20 minutes and an emergency room with ventilator capability within an hour, and information about paid leave and workers’ compensation rules.

Access to housing by community workers: TWH operators must allow community health workers and community-based outreach workers to access occupants in TWH to provide education on COVID-19.

Additional facilities to allow for social distancing: Operators must provide additional cooking, bathing, washing, and toilet facilities in order to facilitate social distancing.

Multiple group shelters and shared facilities: More than one group shelter can share facilities, provided they’re used by only one group at a time, each group has adequate time to perform daily tasks, all high-contact surfaces are sanitized, and schedules are shared and conspicuously posted.

Cleaning and disinfecting: Areas used by occupants with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 must be disinfected in accordance with CDC guidelines before the space is used by others. Additionally, chemicals used for cleaning and disinfecting must be labeled in a language commonly understood by the occupants.

Ventilation: Steps to improve ventilation must be taken whenever possible. For TWH with mechanical ventilation, those systems must be maintained to the manufacturer’s specifications and they must be turned on or windows must be open whenever sleeping quarters are occupied. In TWH without mechanical ventilation systems, windows must be open whenever occupied, if it’s safe to do so (e.g., chemical spraying isn’t being done outside the window).

Barriers near cooking equipment: Must be fire retardant.

Tips: Most of the big-ticket items in these rules were already captured in the broader agriculture COVID-19 safety requirements, but steps such as ensuring third-party isolation facilities are meeting the requirements (even if the facilities are run by government agencies) and notifying L&I within 24 hours of placement, will be challenging for housing operators. Also, as highlighted above, L&I and DOH are clearly planning to make permanent changes to the TWH rules to address pandemic risks in the future. Employers and operators of TWH are strongly advised to get involved in this rulemaking and provide feedback, to ensure their perspectives are taken into consideration. For questions around compliance with these requirements, be sure to connect with 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.