Wildfire Smoke Safety Rules Enacted for Washington Workplaces

By Olivia Hariharan Godt

In response to hotter summers and increased wildfires, both Oregon and Washington have recently passed legislation aimed at keeping workers safe in these conditions. Oregon’s OSHA adopted its rules in May of 2022 and Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries adopted its rules in June of 2022.

In this article, you will find details about Washington’s Wildfire Smoke Rules, which became effective on June 15, 2022. If you want to learn about other heat and wildfire rules, you can find articles here: Washington Extreme Heat, Oregon Extreme Heat, and Oregon Wildfire Smoke.

Washington’s Wildfire Smoke Rules apply when employers reasonably anticipate that their employees will be exposed to an AQI of 69 or above.

The rules do not apply to employees working indoors or in vehicles that have adequate ventilation, assuming the doors and windows are opened only briefly. Employees who are outside one hour or less during a 24 hour period are also excluded from the rules.

Under the rules, employers must:

  • Evaluate the air quality at the worksite before each shift and periodically thereafter as needed.
  • Establish and implement a system for communicating wildfire smoke hazards to affected employees. The rule contains additional specific requirements for what information must be communicated and how that information is communicated.
  • Allow employees to bring and wear their own respiratory protection. Employers are encouraged to provide free respirators to their employees.
  • Monitor employees displaying adverse symptoms of wildfire smoke, have a plan for prompt medical treatment if needed, and allow workers to seek medical treatment without retaliation.
  • Train all workers about wildfire smoke before they begin working and annually thereafter. The training must include certain information as specified in the rule.

Additional rules apply when the AQI reaches 101. Employers must:

  • Implement effective exposure controls, when feasible, such as providing HEPA filters, relocating work to areas with better air quality, or reducing work intensity.
  • Provide free, NIOSH-approved respirators to all exposed employees and the employer must encourage employees to use them. The respirators should be cleaned, stored, maintained, and replaced so they are in good working order. Employers must provide specific training regarding respirator use as explained in the rules.

When air quality is above AQI 500 (off the AQI chart), employers must ensure that their employees are wearing a certain type of respirator.

To view the rules in full, click here: Washington Wildfire Smoke Rules.

Now is the time to review your employee handbooks and policies to ensure compliance with these new rules. As always, we are happy to help. Feel free to reach out with questions or concerns.

This update is prepared for the general information of our clients and friends. It should not be regarded as legal advice. If you have questions about the issues raised here, please contact any of the attorneys in our Labor & Employment Practice Group, or the attorney with whom you normally consult.

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