Be Heat Smart! Implement Your Outdoor Heat Program

While sunshine and warm temperatures can be a welcome sight, it is important to remember that working outdoors in hot weather is a health hazard.

Heat-related illness can quickly become a medical emergency, especially as the weather transitions. Heat waves can impact people differently and it can take 1-2 weeks to adjust to warmer temperatures. As workers acclimatize, they need more breaks, and the pace of work can be impacted.

Beginning May 1 and continuing through September 30, all employers with employees exposed to outdoor temperatures above applicable levels implement a heat stress program.

An Outdoor Heat Exposure Prevention Plan must be part of your required Accident Prevention Program.

Warmer temperatures, physically demanding work, heavy clothing, and dehydration can put even the healthiest workers at risk for debilitating heat exhaustion and life-threatening heat stroke. 

Impairment caused by heat exhaustion can also make workers more susceptible to falls, equipment-related injuries, and other on-the-job safety hazards.

Prevention is the best approach to protect workers. Follow safety requirements in applicable rules and use the resources on this page to plan, prepare, and train for prevention.

Requirements

The general requirements for covered employers include:

  • Provide annual training to employees and supervisors on symptoms of outdoor heat exposure and policies in place to prevent heat-related illness;
  • Increase the amount of water available to employees and provide more opportunity for workers to drink it on days when temperatures require preventive measures; and
  • Being prepared to respond appropriately to any employee with symptoms of heat-related illness.

Specific Rules on Outdoor Heat Exposure

Training & Resources

Training Resources and Other Information

Workers experiencing heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke can exhibit a wide variety of symptoms including: dizziness, headaches, vomiting, or fainting.

We've posted a short video on YouTube: 5 Tips to be Heat Smart (and in Spanish: 5 Tips Para ¡Qué Onda con el Calor!)

We have an educational card available that fully describes the specific symptoms of heat-related illness, and steps employees can take to prevent it.

We also have sample training that can be used to meet the training requirements in our rules. In order to meet these requirements, discuss the conditions that exist at your workplace when providing this training.

Search Safety & Health topics for "Outdoor Heat" to find more resources to Be Heat Smart!

Questions & Answers

Cloth Face Coverings (COVID-19 Prevention)

In general, employees working outdoors must wear, at a minimum, a cloth face covering to help prevent the spread of coronavirus to others. Employers must also ensure that social distancing, frequent handwashing, employee training, and other prevention measures in DOSH Directive 1.70 and 11.80 are followed.

Q: Are cloth face coverings required when employees work or drive alone?

A: No. Employees aren’t required to wear a cloth face covering while they are isolated from interaction with others and have little or no expectation of in-person interruption.

Q: What about employees with a medical condition? Or disability?

A: Employees with a medical condition should provide their employer with a statement from a healthcare professional advising that wearing a face covering could pose a health risk to them.

Employers should assess any negative impacts that face coverings might have on employees with disabilities and make work practice or other adjustments for accommodation per Americans with Disability Act (ADA). For example, employees communicating with people who are deaf or hard of hearing may need to temporarily unmask while staying at least six feet away or behind a physical barrier in order to allow for lip reading.

Q: When can employees remove their mask?

A: Employees may remove their cloth face covering when working alone; or to drink water or eat lunch - while staying at least six feet away from others. Stay masked when responding to or monitoring an employee with symptoms of heat illness; and keep the symptomatic employee masked until they are settled in a cool area at least six feet away from others. Break or cooling areas need to be large enough so unmasked employees can easily stay at six feet from others while they drink.

Q: How can work practices change to prevent heat illness?

A: Allow additional time for breaks, and encourage workers to reduce their physical exertion to prevent overheating and to allow workers to acclimate to the heat. Encourage workers to take a cool-down rest in the shade for at least five minutes when they feel the need to do so to protect themselves from overheating.

Q: Who provides and pays for face coverings?

A: Employers must provide and pay for cloth face coverings; or allow employees to provide their own. Cloth face coverings are not personal protective equipment, but may help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Q: My glasses fog up when I wear a face covering; what can I do?

A: Some face coverings create fogging issues for employees who wear glasses. Antifogging coatings or wipes can help; so can finding a mask that fits more snugly across the bridge of the nose and along the cheek bones. For example, use a mask with a metal strip along the top that can be molded over the bridge of the nose to eliminate gaps between the mask and skin.

Q: Is a face shield an acceptable substitute when a cloth-face covering is required?

A: No. The purpose for wearing cloth face coverings is to protect others from droplets exhaled from the wearer. The purpose for wearing a face shield is to protect the wearer from contact with droplets from others should they cough or sneeze.

Q: Heat stress and COVID-19 symptoms are very similar. How would this be handled?

A: Yes, these symptoms should be treated as heat stress immediately. Take the worker to a cool shady area and have them drink water and recover. While assisting the worker, ensure adequate precautions are maintained for COVID-19 and notify the COVID-19 site supervisor. If their symptoms worsen, or do not improve, additional follow up would be needed.

General

Q: What rules apply to heat exposure?

A: Employees working outdoors or indoors can be at risk for heat illness. Washington State’s Outdoor Heat Exposure rule, WAC-296-095 applies May 1 through September 30 every year. Heat exposure at indoor workplaces are enforced year round; and are based on the information in the ACGIH TLV book and measured using WBGT.

Clothing Categories and Table 1 Action Levels

Q: What is the source to rely on to tell the outside temperature?

A: The temperature must be determined directly in the work areas and the employer may not rely solely on the weather report.

Q: How do you distinguish between double-layer and vapor barrier clothing?

A: Vapor barrier clothing does not allow sweat to evaporate from the body or air to reach the skin. Double-layer clothing inhibits but still allows sweat to evaporate and air to reach the skin.

Q: What category does Tyvek fit under?

A: Standard Tyvek would fall under the second category of outdoor temperature action levels found in Table 1 of the rule.

Q: What category does rain wear fit under?

A: Rain wear would fall under the second category of outdoor temperature action levels.

Q: If a person has on several layers of clothes, where does that fall in the table?

A: Wearing several layers of clothes would fall under the second category of outdoor temperature action levels.

Q: What about a flannel shirt over a tee shirt?

A: This would be considered general work clothing and fall under the first temperature action level of 89 degrees Fahrenheit.

Q: What about coveralls with a T-shirt under, or coveralls with just underclothes under them?

A: This would be considered general work clothing and fall under the first temperature action level of 89 degrees Fahrenheit.

Q: Where does a traffic vest fall in under the new rule?

A: This would be considered general work clothing and fall under the first temperature action level of 89 degrees Fahrenheit.

Q: Does 77°F action level apply to an employee performing outdoor abrasive blasting while wearing a respirator with a shroud?

A: An abrasive blasting head shroud significantly impedes body heat loss acting in the same manner as double layer clothing; as such the 77°F action level would apply. However, if the respirator has a cooling vortex, then it would fall under the 89°F action level. Normally coveralls would be worn during abrasive blasting which would be considered double layer clothing, placing the employee at the 77°F action level, regardless if the respirator had a cooling vortex or not.

Specific Locations

Q: Is it considered to be outdoor work when working in a manhole, underground utility vault, an enclosed space, or tunnel?

A: Work performed within outdoor containment areas such as on lead removal projects on bridges, or where an employee must enter a manhole, tunnel, or outdoor vault are considered “outdoor” work activities for purposes of the outdoor heat exposure rule.

Q: What about employees who drive vehicles for their job?

A: Employees occupying transportation road vehicles, such as delivery vans, trucks or other vehicles, are not considered to be “working outdoors” while driving or occupying the vehicles if the vehicles are able to maintain airflow throughout the vehicle by use of fans, vents, open windows, etc.

Q: Would a work shack be considered indoors if machinery is also kept there?

A: The structure is considered to be an outdoor environment until four outside walls and a roof are erected.

Exposure Duration

Q: What if an employee is only outdoors for a short time, and then moves to air conditioning?

A: The outdoor heat exposure standard does not apply to incidental exposure which exists when an employee is not required to perform a work activity outdoors for more than fifteen minutes in any sixty-minute period.

This exception may be applied every hour during the work shift.

Q: Is the 15 minute exposure consecutive?

A: No it is not.

Q: What if the trigger temperature doesn’t happen until late afternoon?

A: The outdoor heat exposure standard does not apply until one of the temperature action levels in Table 1 is met.

Q: What about a truck driver who is loading and unloading outdoors for about 30 minutes at a time?

A: If the worker is out of the vehicle (outdoors) for more than 15 minutes in an hour, then they would be covered by the outdoor heat exposure standard during that time.

Drinking/Hydration

Q: Are employers responsible for supplying water even though employees bring their own?

A: Yes, the employer is to ensure that there is adequate water available and that each employee has the opportunity to drink at least a quart of water an hour while the outdoor heat exposure standard applies.

Q: Is an onsite garden hose acceptable to drink out of or fill containers? If not, why not?

A: An onsite garden hose is not acceptable because it may not be safe for consumption due to contamination or leeching from the hose.

Q: What about an outside faucet on a neighboring building or house on a construction site?

A: An outside faucet (hose bib) that provides potable water may be used to fill water containers, however employees should not drink directly from it.

Q: Does the drinking water need to be a certain temperature range?

A: The outdoor heat exposure standard does not require water to be at a certain temperature. However water of 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit is recommended.

Q: What if water sits in a truck cab all day?

A: If the water is too hot, and employees do not wish to drink it, it is not considered to be suitable.

Q: If you have a multi-employer commercial site, would it be okay if water is kept in a common place- i.e. a work trailer?

A: Yes, as long as it is readily accessible.

Q: What about employees who can’t leave their stations (e.g., paving crew, flaggers, lead containment areas, etc.)?

A: Under these circumstances you may need to provide extra water breaks or individual water containers so that employees can keep water with them at all times.

Q: How would you expect employees that have to travel from location to location to get water?

A: Employees must be able to stop to buy water or carry sufficient quantities with them.

Q: Can an employee go into a neighboring building to get water?

A: Yes, they may as long as the building is within a reasonable distance.

Q: Does “readily accessible” mean as long as they can walk somewhere close by to get water?

A: Yes

Q: If sub contractors have no water in their work trucks, can they go to the general contractor to get water?

A: Yes, but it is the direct employer’s responsibility to ensure that proper amounts of water are available.

Q: Is the general contractor responsible for providing water to the subs?

A: No, but they may if they wish.

Q: If sufficient water is not on a construction site, would a citation be given to the general or the sub contractor?

A: The sub contractor is responsible for their direct employees and can be cited and the general contractor may be cited under Stute, depending on circumstances.

Q: Are individual drinking cups required?

A: Yes individual cups or containers are required.

Q: What if an employee refuses to drink water? What are the options for the employer?

A: The employer is to provide the water and encourage employees to drink the water. They cannot force an employee to drink the water.

Q: What is defined as sufficient amounts of water?

A: This means that water is always available to all employees.

Q: What if an employee brings their own caffeinated beverage?

A: This is not prohibited but the employer must encourage employers to consume water or other suitable beverages to ensure proper hydration.

Staying Cool

Q: Are misting stations okay to have?

A: They are allowed but not required.

Q: Is a cooling vest acceptable?

A: They are allowed but not required.

Q: Can the cab of an air conditioned truck be considered an engineering control?

A: Yes.

Medical Considerations

Q: What are the effects of medications in warm weather?

A: Employees should be encouraged to consult with their health care provider if they have any questions about their medications or health status.

Incident Response

Q: What if there is no phone service where work is being done and an employee has heat illness issues?

A: Employers must address heat illness in the same manner as any other work-related illness or injury, so other provisions such as radios should be employed.

Educating Employees

Q: Can an employer print off the heat stress information off the L&I website and show it at a safety meeting? Does that constitute proper training?

A: Yes, as long as the training also includes specific procedures for that particular employer including providing water and responding to signs and symptoms of heat-related illness.

Q: What about employees provided by subcontractors that do not speak English?

A: Training must be given in a language that the employee understands.

Need help with your Outdoor Heat Exposure Program or Accident Prevention Program? 

Contact an L&I Safety & Health consultant near you. We offer no-charge services and can answer questions you may have.