First Washington heat wave of 2024 triggers heat rules to protect outdoor workers

May 10, 2024

TUMWATER — Many in Washington are welcoming this week’s break from rainy, cool weather. But for outdoor workers and their employers, the quickly rising temperatures will trigger protections designed to prevent heat-related illness in agriculture, landscaping, construction, and other outdoor jobs.

The rules, overseen by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I), require frequent breaks, access to shade, and water cool enough to drink, among other things.

The state heat rules include protections for outdoor workers that kick in at 80 degrees Fahrenheit, with additional requirements when there is high heat. The forecasted temperatures above 90 degrees in Eastern Washington mean many with outdoor jobs will be working with those requirements in place this weekend.

The rules also require close observation of all workers anywhere temperatures are 80 degrees or higher and 10 or more degrees above the average temperatures for the last 5 days, a threshold that many places around the state will meet in coming days. 

At or above 80 degrees, employers must:

  • Encourage and allow workers to take paid preventative cool-down rest periods as needed;
  • Provide enough shade or other way of cooling down—like an air-conditioned building or running vehicle—for all employees on a meal or rest break to use;
  • Provide enough cool drinking water for each employee to drink a quart per hour; and
  • Closely observe new employees, employees returning from absences, and all employees during heat waves.

At or above 90 degrees, employers must require a 10-minute paid cool down rest period every two hours. When the temperature reaches 100 degrees or higher, the requirement for breaks becomes 15-minutes of paid cool down rest every hour.

L&I updated its heat protection rules last year, lowering the trigger temperature from 89 to 80 degrees and making them effective year round based on temperature, rather than only during certain months of the year.

For many places in Washington, this heat wave would not have activated protections under the older rules.

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Recognizing symptoms of heat stress
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can come on quickly and be serious or fatal. Employers and workers should recognize these symptoms and respond appropriately:

Heat exhaustion:

  • Heavy sweating;
  • A fast, weak pulse;
  • Cold, pale, and clammy skin;
  • Headaches, dizziness, nausea or vomiting;
  • Weakness and/or cramps.

Workers experiencing these symptoms should move into the shade, drink water, and take cool-down rests as needed. Employers who see the symptoms in their workers must take action, provide aid, and continue to monitor symptoms.

Heat stroke:

Heat stroke is more serious and must be treated as a medical emergency that requires professional medical treatment:

  • Skin that is hot, red, and dry, with no sweat;
  • A body temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher;
  • A fast, strong pulse; nausea; and/or loss of consciousness.

Be proactive by protecting workers’ health and safety during the extreme heat of the summer.

For media information:

Matt Ross, L&I Public Affairs, 360-706-4857.

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