Deadline nears to weigh in on proposed wildfire smoke safety rules
July 25, 2023
The deadline to weigh in on the state Dept. of Labor & Industries’ new rules for wildfire smoke safety in our industry and others is growing near. The last virtual public hearing is July 31, 2023. The department will accept written comments through 5 p.m. on August 4.
Proposed wildfire smoke safety rules
The proposed wildfire smoke rules include specific protections depending on air quality levels, starting at Air Quality Index of 69 or more. They also require employers to monitor air quality and alert employees when the air is at certain exposure thresholds.
Employers must allow employees to report wildfire smoke hazards and to receive medical treatment. Finally, employers must notify affected employees whenever they are exposed to wildfire smoke in excess of any of the air quality thresholds listed in this table.
BIAW expresses concerns
Here are some of the negative effects proposed in these new rules:
1. Employers would be required to provide respiratory protection, like N95 masks, when AQI reaches 101. According to L&I, AQI of 101 is only unhealthy for the most sensitive groups. BIAW recommends more vulnerable employees be required to identify themselves to employers in advance so employers can provide appropriate accommodations. For all other “non-sensitive,” or otherwise healthy employees, employers should be required to provide respirators for voluntary use at the “unhealthy” level of 151.
Even California and Oregon require a higher AQI threshold requirement before employers must take preventative measures. These proposed rules are out of step with all other Western states.
2. The proposed language requiring employers to conduct air quality monitoring is confusing. How accurate is voluntary air quality monitoring? How often does the air quality need to be checked?
3. The requirements for employer training are also confusing under this proposal. How often must the training be conducted? What information must be shared during the training? What if an employee has already taken the training? Must they repeat it?
The current rules have been effective when viewed in terms of hours worked versus claims accepted.
Proposed rules hurt employees the most
Employees will suffer the most. Summer months are the optimal time to build homes in Washington. Many employers offer voluntary overtime. This allows employees to earn overtime pay for all hours worked over 40 hours. The dramatic loss of overtime opportunities will financially burden employees and their families.
Unfortunately, under this proposed rule, many employers will need to send employees home early, resulting in lost wages and longer times to build new homes in Washington state. The proposed rules add unnecessary obligations for both employers and employees that do not match the science.
BIAW encourages you to weigh in with your own concerns and comments.
Virtual Public Hearings
July 31, 2023, 6:30 p.m.
Password (if prompted): 731#WildF
To join by phone (audio only):
253-205-0468 or 253-215-8782
Meeting ID: 889 5231 2151
A pre-hearing overview will occur one hour prior to the start of the public hearing. L&I will continue the hearing until they receive all oral testimony.
Submit written comments
The public may submit comment through 5 pm on Aug. 4, 2023.
Cynthia Ireland, Administrative Regulations Analyst
Department of Labor & Industries Division of Occupational Safety and Health
PO Box 44620
Olympia, WA 98504-4620
For more information, visit: www.Lni.wa.gov/WildfireSmoke