New Rules Protecting Washington Workers From Wildfire Smoke Will Start In January

December 18, 2023


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By Connor Board

King 5 News, Dec. 16, 2023

WASHINGTON — New rules will soon be in place in Washington to protect workers from wildfire smoke.

The new regulations will go into effect next month, making Washington the third state to implement year-round wildfire smoke protections for people who work outdoors. California and Oregon were the first two states to do it.

“As we’re aware, wildfire smoke events have continued to happen in Washington state over the last five plus years, seeming to be very consistent throughout the state each summer,” said Ryan Allen, the standards, technical, and lab services senior program manager for the Division of Occupational Safety and Health at the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.

Allen said the smoke can cause short and long-term health problems, depending on the person and their exposure.

“Our primary pollutant of impact is the PM2.5,” Allen said. “It can get into the small recesses of your lungs and start causing damage within the lungs itself.”

This can especially impact people who work outdoors.

“A lot of AG workers, a lot of construction workers, a lot of municipality workers out there working very hard, breathing very hard, taking a lot of it in for eight, to ten, to twelve hours of a work shift,” Allens aid.

That’s why starting in January the department will be enforcing year-round workplace protections against wildfire smoke for people who work in these jobs, something called for three years ago by the public.

“The primary petitioner in this case was the UFW, the United Farm Workers Union, as well as a bunch of other organizations that signed on to their petition as well,” Allen said. “So, very much coming from the agricultural community.”

For the past two years, emergency rules were put in place during smoky conditions, but now the rule will be in effect all year round.

“Our climate is shifting, and so it’s really difficult to predict when these events are going to happen,” Allen said.

The actions that workplaces with outdoor workers must take during smoky conditions range based on air quality. Some protections that can go into place are: providing respiratory protection, requiring immediate medical attention and relocating someone to clean air who is having smoke exposure symptoms, and requiring N95 masks.

“They should be afforded the opportunity to protect themselves so that they can work, earn a living, and go back home at the end day in the same condition they went to work,” Allen said.

The regulations will go into effect on Jan. 15 and be enforced by the state when wildfire smoke events happen.

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