Environmental Protection

Washington State L&I Files Permanent Rule on Heat-Related Illness

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) filed a new permanent workplace rule to protect workers from outdoor heat exposure, noting hot weather is a health hazard that can result in serious medical conditions, including disability or death.

Three workers have died in the state in the past three years from heat-related illness, and more than 580 worker's compensation claims from heat-related illness were filed between 1995 and 2007. L&I said these numbers do not include other injuries, such as falls, which can result when someone stricken with heat stress becomes confused or disoriented.

The rule, which takes effect July 5, 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 in the state the past two summers, so most employers already are in compliance, the department said.

"Workers die from heat-related illness, and a permanent rule is a responsible way to help save lives and prevent illness," said L&I Director Judy Schurke. "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 made changes to the final rule in response to hundreds of comments both for and against the rule. According to Schurke, 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. "This rule addresses those employers who don't," she said. She added that she was also told during the rulemaking process that L&I's approach made a difference and saved lives when it was implemented on an emergency basis during the summers of 2006 and 2007.

"Nobody should die from working outdoors in hot weather," Schurke said, observing that 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, she added.

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.

• increae the volume of available water on days when temperatures require preventive measures.

• have the ability to appropriately respond to any employee with symptoms of illness.

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