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State of Washington develops worker-safety rules to address wildfire smoke

by Jonathan Minear and Cressinda Schlag, Jackson Lewis P.C. |

Smoke from Western wildfires over the summer caused Washington state to experience some of the worst air quality in the world this year, which increased health risks to outdoor workers.

In response, the state’s Department of Labor & Industries’ Division of Occupational Safety and Health announced that it is developing new workplace health and safety rules on wildfire smoke exposure hazards, particularly in the construction and agriculture industries. Over the next several months, and following issuance of a Notice of Intent (CR-101), L&I will hold meetings to gather information from stakeholders and begin drafting an occupational health standard on wildfire smoke to be included in chapter 296-62 of the Washington Administrative Code.

While some requirements of the rule are unknown, the new rule will likely address several key issues, including:

>> Identification of potentially harmful worker exposures to wildfire smoke and related air quality conditions;
>> Communication with employees on air quality conditions, exposure risks, and required controls;
>> Employee training and instruction; and
>> Required engineering and administrative controls to address potentially harmful exposures.

Washington is the second state after California to formally engage in rulemaking to protect workers from hazards related to wildfire smoke.

This new rule will add to existing division guidance on appropriate dust masks and filtering facepiece respirators for protecting employees from exposures to poor air quality conditions caused by wildfire smoke, and guidance from the state’s Department of Health about reducing exposure to wildfire smoke.