By MALLORY GRUBEN
If you’re working outside in 80 degree temperatures in Washington and ask for a cool-down break, your boss must honor it.
That’s one of several new protections the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) added to the state’s heat rules meant to keep outdoor workers in Washington state safe. The changes took effect July 17.
The new rules most greatly affect construction and agriculture workers, but they apply to most people who work outside for more than 15 minutes in an hour. They don’t cover firefighters and other workers who respond to public emergencies.
Anytime temperatures reach a “high-heat trigger” of 80 degrees, or 52 degrees if workers are wearing non-breathable clothing, employers must:
- Allow workers to take paid, preventative cool-down breaks if they are feeling too hot or tired.
- Provide at least a quart of cool drinking water once hourly.
- Provide shaded areas that allow workers to cool off. Sitting inside a car without air conditioning or resting near hot machinery does not count as shade.
- Closely observe workers that are new to the job or back after 14 or more days off. (Employers have several ways to meet this requirement, including implementing a mandatory buddy system or regularly calling anyone working alone.
The rules also mandate paid 10-minute breaks each hour the temperature is at least 90 degrees and paid 15-minute breaks for each hour the temperature is 100 degrees or higher. And during heat waves, when the predicted high temperature is at least 10 degrees higher than the previous five-day average and the high-heat trigger is met, employers must closely observe every worker.
The update extends the protections year-round. Before, they only applied between May and September, so employers had no obligation to provide protections on hot days outside of that range. L&I officials say the updated rule better addresses changing climate patterns and rising temperatures since the state first implemented its heat protection in 2008. It also makes employers more proactive in preventing the worst effects of heat exposure, including heat stroke and death.
Oregon adopted its own heat standards last year that, at the time, were more stringent than Washington’s. L&I’s updates help align both state’s rules, said Barry Moreland, safety director for the NECA-IBEW Electrical Training Center in Portland. The center serves members in both states.
“This will make compliance easier for employers performing work on both sides of the Columbia River,” Moreland said.
BE THE ONE WHO KNOWS THE RULES
More details about Washington’s updated heat rule are available at LNI.wa.gov/heatsmart.