Climate change shapes the Department’s proposed rule changes for outdoor heat exposure safety in Washington
Summer is right around the corner and every year, outdoor temperatures are rising due to climate change. Before the first heat wave sets in, now is a great time to remind Washington employers of the current outdoor heat exposure rules and review the Department’s recently proposed changes for these rules.
The current requirements include addressing outdoor heat exposure safety with supervisors and workers, providing annual training to employers and supervisors on the symptoms of outdoor heat exposure, providing a sufficient amount of drinking water to employees on days when temperatures require “preventative measures,” and responding appropriately to an employee who has symptoms of a heat-related illness. The Department encourages but does not require employers to provide either adequate shade or alternative cooling methods at all times. The Department also suggest that employers should be encouraging and allowing their workers to take paid, preventative cool down rest periods to avoid overheating. More specifically, when temperatures are 90 degrees or higher, employees are required to take these rest breaks of at least 10 minutes every 2 hours.
In late March, the Department announced its proposed updates to the outdoor heat exposure rules. The proposed changes include:
Updating the threshold temperature to 80 degrees for most outdoor work;
More specificity on when and how much shade must be provided by the employer;
Allow as needed access to preventative cool down periods; and
Requiring an “acclimatization section” that closely observed employees during heat waves as well as closely monitoring new workers who haven’t worked in such conditions.
The rules are anticipated to be adopted in June of this year; however, the Department is conducting 5 in-person public hearings around the state in addition to one virtual hearing to get feedback/comments on the proposed changes. Public comments will be accepted through May 11.
We encourage any stakeholders (self-insured employers, TPAs, etc.) who are directly impacted by the proposed rules to submit comments or attend one of the Department’s hearings.
If you have any questions about the outdoor heat exposure rules, either current or proposed, please feel free to reach out to or call 503-412-3111.