Washington State Issues Emergency Rules for People Working in Extreme Heat


Employers will need to provide shade and paid breaks to employees working outside during extreme heat under new emergency rules adopted by the Washington Department of Labor and Industries.

The emergency rules add provisions for extreme heat, defined as temperatures that are at or above 100 degrees. Employers must provide shade or other means for employees to cool down, along with a paid cool-down rest period of at least 10 minutes every two hours. The rules cover people working outside in agriculture, construction and other industries.

The emergency rules, combined with existing rules, require employers to do the following when temperatures are at or above 89 degrees: Provide water that is cool enough to drink safely, allow and encourage workers to take additional paid cool-down breaks to prevent overheating, have a written outdoor heat exposure safety program, provide training to employees, and respond appropriately to employees with symptoms of health-related illness.

The emergency rules, which go into effect Tuesday, update existing rules that are in place from May through September.

L&I will pursue permanent changes to the heat rules, a process that allows for public input.

The emergency rules come after a major heat wave hit the Pacific Northwest late last month, leading to record high temperatures. On Thursday, the state Department of Health reported that they identified 78 likely heat-related deaths, well above seven deaths in 2020 and 39 combined deaths during May to September from 2015 and 2020. The majority of the deaths were in King and Pierce counties. Five deaths were identified in Yakima County in the DOH numbers, but Yakima County Coroner Jim Curtice said his staff identified seven health-related deaths in Yakima County and the number could be up to nine.

The state Department of Health said that a final count of heat-related deaths would not be available for at least a month and that current numbers are preliminary and likely will increase.

United Farm Workers and the UFW Foundation contacted Gov. Jay Inslee late last month urging him to pass emergency rules that would provide additional protections for those working outside in extreme heat, including farmworkers.

Elizabeth Strater, strategic campaigns director with United Farm Workers, said she wonders why the temperature threshold prompting mandatory paid cool-down breaks is higher relative to other states. California requires such breaks when temperatures are higher than 95 degrees F.

"I'm curious where that 100 degrees came from, Strater said. "I look forward to the permanent rulemaking process."

Dina Lorraine, an L&I spokeswoman, said the emergency rules were developed based on the petition from United Farm Workers, using California's rules as a model.

"We will get further stakeholder input as we develop the permanent rule," she said.

Jon DeVaney, president of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association, said he would have liked L&I to get more input prior to issuing the emergency rules and plans to participate in the permanent rulemaking process.

DeVaney said growers had measures in place to meet the existing rules and made adjustments to minimize workers' time in extreme heat, such as having workers come in earlier in the day and encouraging workers to take breaks.

"Heat is a known hazard and our farmers were already taking steps to protect their workforce from it," he said. "(The emergency rule) changes some of the specific requirements. In many cases, they were things our growers were already doing."

Oregon also passed emergency rules regarding working in extreme heat. Under those rules, when the heat index is above 80, employers are required to provide access to sufficient shade and an adequate supply of drinking water. When the index is above 90 degrees, employers need to provide a means for workers and supervisors to report concerns, ensure employers are observed for signs of heat illness and provide a paid cool-down rest period of at least 10 minutes for every two hours of work.