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June 4, 2008

L&I files permanent rule on heat-related illness

TUMWATER – The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) today filed a new permanent workplace rule to protect workers from outdoor heat exposure.

“Workers die from heat-related illness, and a permanent rule is a responsible way to help save lives and prevent illness,” said L&I Director Judy Schurke. “We strived to make the rule easy to understand and implement, and we believe it gives employers clarity on what is required and workers the protections they deserve.”

Schurke said the permanent rule, which takes effect July 5, is not expected to represent a significant new burden for employers because costs associated with staff training, providing water and having a place for workers to cool down typically are minimal. In addition, an emergency rule has been in place the past two summers, so most employers already are in compliance.

L&I conducted six public hearings on the proposed rule. Schurke said changes were made to the final rule in response to hundreds of comments both for and against the rule.

Working outdoors in hot weather is a health hazard that can result in serious medical conditions, including disability or death. Three workers have died in the past three years in Washington from heat-related illness. Some 582 workers’ compensation claims from heat-related illness were filed between 1995 and 2007. And, these numbers don’t include other injuries, such as falls, which can result when someone stricken with heat stress becomes confused or disoriented.

“Nobody should die from working outdoors in hot weather,” Schurke said.

She said that many employers said during the rulemaking process that they already train their employees, provide drinking water in hot weather, and are prepared to respond to worker illnesses. “This rule addresses those employers who don’t,” she said.

Schurke said she was also told during the rulemaking process that L&I’s approach made a difference and saved lives when it was implemented on an emergency basis during the summers of 2006 and 2007.

Schurke said a permanent rule raises awareness when the temperature rises, and it helps employers know what to do so they can plan for and prevent heat-related illness. Employers who have been in compliance with the emergency rule of the past two years will not have to do anything new this year.

“We have many employers in Washington who do the right thing all the time for their workers, including protecting them from heat stress,” she said. “They already do what’s necessary to keep their workers safe, so the new rule simply confirms their responsible actions.”

The rule requires employers with employees who work outdoors to:

  • Train employees and supervisors to recognize heat-related illness and what to do if someone has symptoms.
  • On days when temperatures require preventive measures, increase the volume of water available to employees.
  • Have the ability to appropriately respond to any employee with symptoms of illness.

L&I has scheduled a series of two-hour workshops for company representatives who will do their company heat stress training:

  • Bellevue: June 12, 2:30 p.m., Bellevue L&I office, 616 120th Ave. N.E., Suite C201.
  • Everett: June 16, 12:30 p.m., Everett L&I office, 729 100th St. S.E.
  • Tukwila: June 17, 1:30 p.m., Tukwila L&I office, 12806 Gateway Dr.
  • MountVernon: June 18, 12:30 p.m., Mount Vernon L&I office, 525 E. College Way, Suite H.
  • Vancouver: June 20, 10 a.m., Vancouver L&I office, 312 S.E. Stonemill Dr., Suite 120
  • Yakima: June 23, 1 p.m., Yakima L&I office, 15 W. Yakima Ave., Suite 100.
  • Kennewick: June 24, 8:30 a.m., WorkSource office, 815 N. Kellogg, Suite D.
  • Spokane: June 24, 1 p.m., Spokane Valley Library, 12004 E. Main Ave.
  • Moses Lake: June 25, 9 a.m., Moses Lake Fire Department, 701 E. Third Ave.
  • Wenatchee: June 25, 1 p.m., East Wenatchee L&I office, 519 Grant Road.
  • Tumwater: June 30, 1 p.m., Tumwater L&I office, 7273 Linderson Way S.W.

In addition to the workshops, individual employers can request a free workplace consultation.

More information about the heat stress rule is available at http://www.lni.wa.gov/Safety/Topics/AtoZ/heatstress/default.asp.


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

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