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May 14, 2020

WASHINGTON: L&I finalizes rules for temporary worker housing

COVID-19Safety and Health 

On May 12, 2020, Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) released new requirements for temporary agricultural worker housing to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Here’s what you need to know if you’re the housing operator for your employees (or if you’re responsible for a housing operator’s compliance with these rules):

Effective and expiration dates: The rules are effective May 18, 2020. L&I’s rulemaking website currently says the rules expire on September 10, 2020, while at least one publication from the Washington Department of Health indicates the expiration date is September 15, 2020. We’re seeking clarification from L&I and will confirm the expiration date in a future newsletter article.

Education and postings: Occupants must be educated in a language they understand about COVID-19, including how it spreads, how to prevent exposure, and what to do if they develop symptoms. You must allow community health workers to have access to the housing to conduct outreach. Information regarding the facility’s health and safety policies, how to identify COVID-19 symptoms, where to report if the occupant isn’t feeling well, and how to secure medical treatment must be posted in the language commonly understood by the occupants.

Face coverings: You must provide cloth face coverings and explain how to use them in public and at housing facilities.

Social distancing: You must implement a plan to maintain at least six feet of separation between occupants at housing sites, including when cooking, eating, bathing, washing, and sleeping. This plan could include administrative controls (e.g., staggering use of certain areas, limiting access to areas that aren’t assigned living areas, or adding fridges or portable sinks) or engineering controls (e.g., physical barriers).

Sleeping for non-group shelters: There are two options for sleeping arrangements in non-group shelters. One option is to place beds six feet apart in all directions between frames, arranged so occupants sleep head to toe, with only the lower bunk in a bunkbed occupied. Another option is to separate the beds with temporary non-permeable barriers that are at least the length of the bed, extend from the floor to near the ceiling, are fire resistant or retardant, don’t impede egress and ventilation, and are cleaned at least daily. These barriers must be perpendicular to the wall so that a 36-inch minimum aisle exists between the bed and the temporary barrier. When barriers are used, the occupants sleep with their heads toward the wall, and occupy only the lower bunk in each bunkbed.

Sleeping for group shelters: A group shelter is generally a dwelling or cluster of dwellings where up to 15 people can live, with appropriate beds, toilets, and bathing facilities, along with places to prepare food and cook, if applicable. The bottom bunk can be used as long as occupants sleep head to toe. You must keep beds at least six feet apart, improve ventilation when possible, and maintain safe exit routes.

Additional group shelter requirements: You must designate which occupants are part of each group and maintain the same occupants in each group shelter. You must provide a space where occupants can store and lock their personal items. Group shelter occupants must stay together and keep separate from other groups, occupants, and workers. You should encourage group shelter occupants to designate individuals for errands. If one member develops COVID-19 symptoms, you must quarantine or test all members of the group as directed by the local health authority.

Cleaning and disinfecting: Common areas and surfaces touched by multiple occupants must be cleaned on a regular schedule using Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved cleaners. You must provide adequate cleaning and handwashing supplies. Areas where occupants with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 had been must be cleaned in compliance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. If you bring in any contracted labor to clean, you must provide training on cleaning requirements in a language they understand.

Identifying and isolating the sick: You must develop a process for daily screening of occupants for COVID-19 symptoms that includes taking temperatures or having occupants take their own temperatures with thermometers provided by you. Suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases must be isolated (except when the occupant resides with family members), given food and water, and monitored. You must report suspected cases to the local health officer (consistent with existing requirements in Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 296-307-16190 to report communicable diseases), and provide transportation for medical evaluation or treatment in a safe manner (e.g., providing adequate personal protective equipment or distancing for the transport).

Temporary worker housing (TWH) plans: You must submit your TWH plan addressing COVID-19 to the Department of Health by May 28, 2020. TWH plans must include compliance with the new requirements and identify a single point of contact for COVID-19 issues. You must share the plan with occupants when it takes effect or when occupants arrive, and you must designate a person to ensure occupants are aware of the plan and to answer their questions.

Variances: Operators can continue to request temporary variances under existing rules (WAC 296-307-16120).

Tips For Employers: Many of these rules are similar to L&I’s requirements and suggestions for all agricultural, food processing, and warehousing operations that we previously reported on, so to the extent you’re already complying with those requirements in your workplaces, you can use many of those same strategies to comply with these temporary housing requirements. For resources on specific topics, including in other languages, check out the CDC’s pages on symptoms, prevention, what to do when sick, face coverings, the Washington Department of Health’s (DOH) education materials, and our Model Policy, Social Distancing Policy. As you work on implementing your new plans, be aware that more changes could be coming because of ongoing litigation between farm labor groups and L&I. If you have questions contact your Vigilant safety professional and Vigilant Law Group employment attorney.

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.