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March 19, 2008

Proposed rule protects workers in hot weather

TUMWATER — The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) today proposed a new workplace rule to protect workers from heat-related illness when working outdoors in hot weather. Working outdoors in hot weather is a health hazard that can put employees at risk for serious medical consequences.

L&I proposed this rule because heat-related illness, such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke, can cause disability or death. In the past 10 years, four Washington workers are known to have died from heat stroke, and hundreds more sought medical treatment for their illnesses. Many workers become ill in hot weather and don’t recognize the symptoms. The symptoms, which include dizziness, confusion and poor judgment, can contribute to other serious injuries.

L&I worked closely with business and labor representatives to develop this proposed rule. This proposal is significantly different from the temporary rules L&I used the past two summers.

“Over the course of the past summer, fall and winter, we have been working toward a rule that is simple, easy to comply with, and effective,” said L&I Director Judy Schurke. “It’s my hope that the current proposal will be received as a reasonable and effective way to protect workers.”

The proposal, which will be the subject of five public hearings, would require employers with employees who work outdoors to:

  • Update their safety program to include preventive measures to reduce the risk of heat-related illness.

  • Train employees to recognize the signs, symptoms and risk factors of heat-related illness and what to do if someone has symptoms.

  • Check the weather forecast and temperatures daily to know when it’s hot enough to require preventive measures.

  • On days when temperatures require preventive measures, increase the volume of water provided to employees and respond to any employee with symptoms of illness.

Employees working outdoors for 15 minutes or less in an hour are exempt.

"Working outdoors in hot weather can be a serious workplace hazard that puts employees at risk," said Dr. Steven R. Smith, an occupational medicine physician in Kennewick. "Heat exhaustion is a serious health problem and heat stroke can result in death."

The tentative adoption of the rule is June 4 following five public hearings statewide:

  • Tumwater, April 28: 1 p.m., at the Comfort Inn, 1620 74th Ave. S.W.
  • Bellingham, April 29: 1 p.m., at the Quality Inn Baron Suites, 100 E. Kellogg Road
  • Yakima, April 30: 9 a.m., Clarion Hotel/Conference Center, 1507 N. First St.
  • Richland, April 30: 2 p.m., Red Lion Hotel-Hanford House, 802 George Washington Way
  • Spokane, May 1: 1 p.m., Red Lion Hotel at the Park, W. 303 N. River Dr.

Written comments may be mailed to Jamie Scibelli, Division of Occupational Safety and Health, P.O. Box 44620, Olympia, WA 98504-4620 by 5 p.m. May 2, or faxed by that date to 360-902-5619.

Complete information is online at www.Lni.wa.gov/Safety/Topics/AtoZ/HeatStress/ or by calling 360-902-4568.

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For media information: Elaine Fischer, L&I, 360-902-5413.

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