Washington’s Proposed Wildfire Smoke Designed to Protect Workers from Dangers

May 19, 2023

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries filed proposed permanent wildfire smoke rules and launched a formal process for public input designed to protect people who work outdoor jobs like construction, agriculture, roofing, roadwork and other industries.

When these workers breathe in the tiny particles carried by the smoke, it increases the risk of reduced lung function, aggravated asthma, heart failure and early death, according to the L&I.

The air quality index for small particles of dangerous material, known as PM 2.5, is 69 or higher. As air quality gets worse, employers must provide increasing protections to keep workers safe and healthy, according to the L&I.

Proposed requirements include:

For 69 or higher:

  • Wildfire smoke response plan
  • Wildfire smoke safety training
  • Emergency response measures for workers experiencing wildfire smoke symptoms

For 101 or higher:

  • Respiratory protection required to be provided; use of respirators is voluntary
  • Feasible wildfire smoke exposure controls

For 301 or higher:

  • Respiratory protection required to be distributed to individual workers; use of respirators is voluntary
  • If workers experience wildfire smoke symptoms requiring medical attention, relocate them to a space with clean air

For 500 or higher:

  • Respirators (N95 at a minimum) required to be worn by affected workers
  • Full workplace respiratory protection program required

Beyond the air quality index:

  • N95 is not sufficiently protective at this level; more protective respirators are required

The proposed rules would require employers to monitor the air quality and alert workers when it exceeds certain exposure thresholds. When workers show signs of injury or illness related to smoke, employers must monitor them to determine if medical care is needed. Employers are prohibited from preventing workers from seeking medical treatment.

L&I plans to conduct six public hearings in Spokane, Kennewick, Bellingham, Vancouver, Tukwila, and Yakima, and one virtual public hearing to take comments. Details on how to attend the hearings or submit comments are on L&I’s rulemaking activity page. Public comments will be accepted through 5 p.m. on Aug. 4.

L&I says it will review and consider submitted comments before making any adjustments and adopting permanent rules.

Topics Catastrophe Natural Disasters Wildfire Washington

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