OLYMPIA, WA - Tomorrow marks the day that the emergency rules for outdoor workers in this historic heatwave goes into effect.
The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries filed these updated regulations July 9th, serving as an emergent addition to the Outdoor Heat Exposure laws filed in 2008.
“The recent heat wave is a reminder that extreme temperatures can be a real danger in the workplace. With more hot weather on the way, we’re taking action now,” said L&I Director Joel Sacks. "The emergency rule clarifies existing requirements and outlines commonsense 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 United Farm Workers Union also played a vital role in pushing Governor Inslee to pass emergency laws applying to this heat wave.
"We sent two petitions to Governor Inslee and both of them were accepted." said Zaira Sanchez, Emergency Relief Coordinator for UFW Foundation.
In a press release from the WA Labor and Industries, Governor Inslee said" 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,” said Gov. Jay Inslee. “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.”
For other farmers like Garrett LaPierre from LaPierre Farms, he said their management has been implementing safety protocols for both workers and fruit even when temperatures are 85 degrees.
"We have cooling pads for the fruit and workers. We also had them start picking at 3 am so they can beat the heat." said LaPierre. "Cultivating a safe and healthy environment for workers makes them happy to come back."
LaPierre Farms also just got out of cherry season and will continue with blueberry season.
Some farm workers have experienced heat-illnesses severely, one to the point of death like Sebastian Francisco Perez in St. Paul Oregon. But these new heat regulations are hoping to change that.
"96% of our farm workers said that the government should impose more regulations." said Sanchez.
When the temperature is at or above 100 degrees, employers must do the following:
Providing shade or another way for employees to cool down; and
- Ensuring workers have a paid cool-down rest period of at least 10 minutes every two hours.
When temperatures are at or above 89 degrees, the new rules combined with existing rules make employees:
- Provide water that is cool enough to drink safely;
- Allow and encourage workers to take additional paid preventative cool-down rest to protect from overheating;
- Be prepared by having a written outdoor heat exposure safety program and providing training to employees;
- Respond well-equipped to any employee with symptoms of heat-related illness.
The heat regulations last until September.
In Oregon, these heat regulations are similar. Except employers need to have a medical emergency plan in place. Oregon is also working on making this a year-round law.
But this law doesn't only apply to farm workers but also construction workers, gardeners, and any workers who do outdoor activities.
If any farm worker has a complaint about their job environment, please call the UFW at 1-877-881-8281.
For any employers who want more resources on how to plan for the heat, click this safety document from L&I.