You may not think your employees are classified as outdoor workers, but if you operate a golf course, outdoor patio, amusement park, sports venue or you have delivery drivers, your employees work outdoors. 

Our summers are getting hotter and drier, which means outdoor workers can be at risk when the temperature reaches more than 89 degrees or when winds blow smoke into the area from a nearby wildfire. 

The Washington Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has issued new emergency rules to protect outdoor workers from extreme heat or dangerous wildfire smoke. Employers are now required to monitor temperature and air quality, take steps to protect outdoor workers from heat and smoke hazards and provide training and other information about heat and smoke from June 15 through Sept. 29, 2022. 

Outdoor heat exposure rules 

Employers must monitor temperatures throughout the day and protect employees from heat-related illnesses when temperatures reach 57 degrees and workers are wearing non-breathable clothing, such as rain gear; 77 degrees when employees are wearing double-layer woven clothing like sweatshirts; and 89 degrees when wearing any other type of clothing.  

When temperatures reach 89 degrees or hotter, employers must: 

  • Provide outdoor workers enough sufficiently cool water to drink at least a quart an hour 
  • Provide adequate shade that is large enough and close enough to workers 
  • Encourage workers to take paid preventive cool-down breaks as needed  
  • Require a paid 10-minute cool-down break once every two hours

Employers must train employees to recognize the signs or symptoms of heat-related illness and implement a plan for communicating these signs. They must also develop an outdoor heat exposure response to their Accident Prevention Plan. You can find an example of this addendum on L&I’s website. 

Learn more about L&I’s emergency heat exposure rules here. You can also find this card that includes prevention and symptoms in English and Spanish here. 

Wildfire smoke rules 

Employers must monitor the Air Quality Index (AQI) before each shift and periodically thereafter and act when certain thresholds are met.  

When the AQI is at 69 or higher employers are required to reduce employees’ exposure to smoke by: 

  • Reducing, rescheduling or relocating work 
  • Providing enclosed buildings or vehicles where the air is filtered 
  • Reducing the work intensity or increasing rest periods 

When the AQI is at 101 or higher, employers must limit exposure to smoke whenever feasible. At AQI 69, employers are encouraged to provide respirators at no cost to the employee and workers can wear respiratory protection if they choose. At AQI 101, employers must provide respirators for voluntary use. Employees are required to wear respirators when the particulates of wildfire smoke reach 555 micrograms per cubic meter—well above the top of the AQI scale at 500. 

Employers must include a wildfire smoke response in their written Accident Prevention Plan. You can find an outline of this addendum on L&I’s website. 

Check out L&I’s new wildfire smoke safety page here. 

Websites to check air quality  

Mobile apps you can download   

  • EPA AirNow  
  • Air Quality WA