L&I Moves Ahead with “Emergency” Wildfire Smoke and Heat Exposure Rules

Jun 16, 2022

The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) announced the finalization of emergency rules related to Wildfire Smoke and Heat Exposure for Washington businesses and their employees.

In response to the initial rule proposals,  BIAW and other business groups provided detailed and constructive input and raised the issue of the need for, and legality of ,“emergency” rules in these two areas.  L&I essentially ignored this input entirely and is proceeding accordingly.

What do employers need to know about the new “emergency” rules?

The rules for both Wildfire Smoke and Outdoor Heat Exposure will be in effect from June 15-Sept. 30.

Wildfire Smoke:

The rule requires covered employers to:

  • Have a written wildfire smoke response plan.
  • Determine employee smoke exposure levels before work and periodically during each shift when smoke is present.
  • Train employees on wildfire smoke hazards.
  • Train supervisors on how to respond to health issues caused by wildfire smoke.
  • Inform employees of available protective measures against wildfire smoke.

When wildfire smoke conditions reach Air Quality Index (AQI)  101 additional requirements include:

  • Alert employees of the smoke levels.
  • Provide respirators and encourage their use.
  • When feasible, limit employee exposures to wildfire smoke.

Specific Requirements:

If the AQI is at 69 or higher, employers are encouraged to limit their workers’ exposure to smoke by:

  • Reducing, rescheduling, or relocating work;
  • Providing enclosed buildings or vehicles where the air is filtered; and,
  • Reducing the work intensity or increasing rest periods.

When the AQI is at 101 or higher, steps to limit workers’ exposure to smoke is required whenever feasible.

At AQI 69 or higher, employers are encouraged to provide respirators at no cost to the workers and workers can wear respiratory protection if they choose. At AQI 101, employers must provide respirators for voluntary use—an increase in protection from last year’s wildfire smoke rule.

Employees must be provided with and are required to wear more protective respirators when particulates from wildfire smoke are measured at 555 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) or higher, a level both extremely hazardous and rare that is beyond the top of the AQI scale of 500.

Where to find AQI:

Some common online tools to find real-time air quality information include:

Employers may also use their own air monitoring equipment if it meets specific qualifications.

L&I also recommends employers take action to reduce employee exposure to dangerous air at even lower AQI levels, especially for sensitive groups including those with asthma or other lung conditions.

The entire Wildfire Smoke Rule can be found here: Emergency Wildfire Smoke Rule, WAC 296-62-085.