On January 8, 2021, Washington’s Departments of Labor & Industries (L&I) and Health (DOH) again 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. Almost all the requirements in this second round of TWH rules mirror the originals, reported on here, and subsequent modifications that took place in September 2020, reported on here, but new items include:
Effective and expiration dates: The new rules are effective January 8, 2021, and are set to expire on May 8, 2021.
Definition of licensed health care professional: Housing operators must continue to ensure a licensed health care professional visits workers in isolation twice per day, but the new rules add a medical assistant who is certified or registered (MA-C or MA-R) to the definition of a licensed health care professional. An MA-C or MA-R can assist with exams onsite while their supervisor provides telemedicine offsite.
Access to housing by community workers: TWH operators must continue to allow community health workers and community-based outreach workers to access occupants in TWH to provide education on COVID-19. Helpfully, the new rules say these community workers should report to a designated area to provide their information and complete a screening process to ensure they’re symptom free. They should also limit the number of workers they contact at a time, ensure 6 feet of social distancing, and wear personal protective equipment (PPE) at all times.
Ventilation: The new rules consolidate the ventilation guidance in one section and add a definition for mechanical ventilation – the active process of supplying or removing air from a space using powered equipment, but not wind-driven turbine ventilators and mechanically operated windows. In this new combined section, mechanical ventilation systems must continue to be maintained to the manufacturer’s specifications, but TWH operators must now also have staff or a contractor set the ventilation system to increase the percentage of outside air (unless there are hazardous external conditions). They must verify the system is fully functional and it filters air with a filter that has a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating of 13 or higher when possible or with the highest rated MERV filter supported by the system when MERV 13 isn’t possible. TWH operators must also ensure exhaust air doesn’t reenter the building, appropriate PPE is used when changing filters, filters are clean and in good repair, maintenance checks occur at the beginning of the season and when the manufacturer recommends, and a maintenance log is kept showing filter selection, conditions, and outside air settings. Additionally, TWH operators must instruct occupants to turn on ventilation systems or open windows when sleeping quarters are occupied, open windows or access other sources of fresh air when possible, temporarily shut down the system when pesticides are being applied in the vicinity, and operate exhaust fans continuously at maximum capacity. In buildings without ventilation systems, the operator must instruct residents to remove or redirect personal fans to prevent blowing air from one worker to another, and to open windows whenever the building is occupied. The rules encourage operators to use portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) systems to increase clean air.
Tips: The big-ticket items in these rules were already captured in the broader agriculture COVID-19 safety requirements, but the detailed requirements for ventilation will certainly present new challenges for housing operators. For questions around compliance with these requirements, be sure to connect with your Vigilant safety professional.