In a summer of searing temperatures, the state Department of Labor and Industries released an emergency rule Friday to provide farmworkers and other outdoor workers with additional protection from heat-related illnesses.
The rule, which will go into effect July 13, requires employers to offer shade or other means for employees to cool down when temperatures reach 100 degrees, as well as rest periods of at least 10 minutes every two hours.
The measure, combined with existing rules, also will require employers to provide cool drinking water once temperatures reach 89 degrees, and allow employees to take additional paid rest when needed, to prevent overheating.
“The heat experienced in our state this year has reached catastrophic levels. The physical risk to individuals is significant, in particular those whose occupations have them outdoors all day,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a written statement. “Our state has rules in place to ensure these risks are mitigated, however, the real impacts of climate change have changed conditions since those rules were first written and we are responding.”
The record-shattering temperatures in June resulted in more than 180 heat-related deaths in Washington and Oregon. Those who succumbed to the heat included a worker found dead at a blueberry farm south of Portland.
Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Thursday released emergency rules to expand heat protections for outdoor workers. The Washington emergency rule released Friday comes as temperatures in agricultural areas around Pasco are forecast to surpass 100 degrees Saturday through Wednesday.
“With more hot weather on the way, we’re taking action now,” L&I Director Joel Sacks said. “The emergency rule clarifies existing requirements and outlines common sense steps employers must take to keep the workers who are responsible for growing our food, paving our roads and putting up our buildings safe on the job.”
The new rule expands upon rules put in place annually from May to June that require workers get access to at least 1 quart of drinking water per hour, an outdoor heat exposure safety program, and that employers give appropriate response to workers with heat-related illnesses.
The late June heat wave hit as the cherry harvest was approaching a peak, with many growers switching to picking before dawn and quitting as temperatures climbed.
“We think the risk is from potential failure to follow the existing rules, not the inadequacy of those rules,” said Jon DeVaney, president of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association.
DeVaney said members took heat exposure seriously, taking additional measures to protect the workforce during the recent heat wave, including shifting work to the coolest part of the day and avoiding work at the hottest periods.
He said that growers “weren’t thrilled” with the process that led to the new rule, saying it lacked input from agricultural industry officials.
Farmworker advocates have been concerned some workers were not provided adequate access to shade, offered enough breaks or assured a supply of water cool enough to drink. They joined discussions this week with state officials about additional regulatory protection.
Edgar Franks, political and campaign director for Familias Unidas por la Justicia. said he is encouraged by the release of the new rules but said more work still needs to be done.
Frank called for more enforcement so that workers will feel comfortable asking for needed breaks without concerns of retaliation. He also suggested that hazard pay for workers should be considered during extreme temperatures.
Washington L&I officials are starting the process to turn the emergency rule into a permanent rule and expanding outreach efforts to warn about the risks of heat stress. Washington has on average 55 workers’ compensation claims per year for heat-related illnesses.