Washington State Files Permanent Heat Stress Rule

The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) today filed a new permanent workplace rule to protect employees from outdoor heat exposure. The rule takes effect July 5.

L&I Director Judy Schurke said the permanent rule is not expected to represent a significant new burden for employers because costs associated with staff training, providing water and having a place for workers to cool down typically are minimal. In addition, an emergency rule has been in place the past two summers, so most employers already are in compliance.

“Workers die from heat-related illness, and a permanent rule is a responsible way to help save lives and prevent illness,” Schurke said. “We strived to make the rule easy to understand and implement, and we believe it gives employers clarity on what is required and workers the protections they deserve.”

L&I conducted six public hearings on the proposed rule, and Schurke said changes were made in response to hundreds of comments.

The rule requires employers with employees who work outdoors to:

  • Train employees and supervisors to recognize heat-related illness and what to do if someone has symptoms.
  • On days when temperatures require preventive measures, increase the volume of water available to employees.
  • Have the ability to appropriately respond to any employee with symptoms of illness.

Working outdoors in hot weather is a health hazard that can result in serious medical conditions, including disability or death. Three workers have died in the past three years in Washington from heat-related illness. Some 582 workers’ compensation claims from heat-related illness were filed between 1995 and 2007. These numbers don’t include other injuries, such as falls, which can result when someone stricken with heat stress becomes confused or disoriented.

“Nobody should die from working outdoors in hot weather,” Schurke said.

She added that many employers said during the rulemaking process that they already train their employees, provide drinking water in hot weather and are prepared to respond to worker illnesses. The rule, Schurke asserted, “addresses those employers who don’t.”

Schurke said a permanent rule raises awareness when the temperature rises, and it helps employers know what to do so they can plan for and prevent heat-related illness. Employers who have been in compliance with the emergency rule of the past two years will not have to do anything new this year.

“We have many employers in Washington who do the right thing all the time for their workers, including protecting them from heat stress,” she said. “They already do what’s necessary to keep their workers safe, so the new rule simply confirms their responsible actions.”

More information about the heat stress rule in the state of Washington is available at http://www.lni.wa.gov/Safety/Topics/AtoZ/heatstress/default.asp.

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