Washington Labor and Industries has announced it will write rule to protect outdoor workers from wildfire smoke, responding to a petition from the United Farm Workers and UFW Foundation.
The rule would apply to other outdoor workers, including in the construction industry, the department said. Washington would be the second state to adopt a wildfire smoke rule for workplaces, following California.
In the petition to L&I, the farmworker union said it visited about a dozen farms in the Yakima Valley and surveyed about 600 farmworkers in September as wildfires raged and found few with masks that could filter out smoke particles.
“It is alarming that farmworkers are constantly being exposed to these conditions without any basic protections while working in the fields,” according to the petition.
Smoke from wildfires in September made the air across the state sometimes “hazardous,” according to an air-quality index developed by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Gov. Jay Inslee last month attributed the blazes to climate change and said the state would adopt a rule to keep workers from being exposed to smoke.
Labor and Industries filed a notice Oct. 19, formally alerting the public that it has initiated work on the rule. The department has not yet proposed a rule.
“It’s clear that wildfire smoke isn’t a short-term issue. It impacts all of us, but is especially concerning for workers who have to be outside and breathe it in all day long,” said Craig Blackwood, deputy assistant director for the Division of Occupational Safety and Health.
California adopted an emergency rule last year requiring farms to supply workers who must work outdoors with particle-filtering masks when the air-quality index reaches “unhealthy.” The Division of Occupational Safety and Health is working on a permanent rule.