SPOKANE, Washington – Washington state on Friday became the second state in the Pacific Northwest in as many days to announce emergency rules that offer farm laborers and others working outdoors better protection against the high heat following an extreme heat wave believed to have killed hundreds of people.
The announcement comes a day after Oregon approved what advocates call the nation’s most protective emergency heat rules for workers and as temperatures rise again this week in parts of the west from the United States, but not as severely as at the end of June. The heat makes it difficult to fight forest fires in parts of a region struggling with historic drought linked to climate change.
“The heat felt in our state this year has reached catastrophic levels,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. “The physical risk to individuals is significant, especially for those whose occupations take them out all day.”
Washington’s new rules take effect Tuesday and update existing mandates that are in place from May through September, when the state’s multibillion-dollar agriculture industry relies on tens of thousands of farm workers to care for and harvest crops such as apples, cherries, hops and asparagus.
Under emergency rules, when the temperature is 100 F (38 C) or above, employers must provide shade or other means for employees to cool off and provide a paid rest period of at least 10 minutes every two hours.
The state has previously required employers to provide each outside worker with at least one liter of potable water per hour, provide safety training on outdoor heat exposure, and respond to any employee with symptoms of heat-related illness. A new requirement is that the water must be cool.
It’s on businesses with heat rules in Washington, Oregon and California, where Del Bosque Farms owner Joe Del Bosque watched his workers on Friday and over the weekend, when he expected to temperatures above 110 F (43 C) in the Central Valley.
“If we see that it is too hot and that it is a danger for them, we will stop the operation and send them home,” he said.
Del Bosque also said he educates the workers who pick and pack melons on his farm on preventing heat-related illnesses and providing plenty of cool water and shade for rest.
The rush to protect workers follows a heat wave that hit the northwest and British Columbia in late June and broke all-time heat records in places like Seattle and Portland , Oregon.
An immigrant from Guatemala who was part of an outdoor crew moving irrigation pipes to an Oregon nursery was among those who died in the heat wave. Nearly 200 deaths have been blamed on the heat in Washington and Oregon, while officials in British Columbia say hundreds may have died.
The record high temperatures were caused by what meteorologists described as a dome of high pressure compounded by man-made climate change, making such extreme weather events more likely and more intense.
Last month was the hottest June on record for the contiguous United States, breaking the 2016 record by nearly one degree, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Friday. The unprecedented extreme heat in the Pacific Northwest at the end of the month was one of the main factors, as the country averaged 72.64 degrees Fahrenheit (22.58 Celsius) for June, beating the old record 71.76 F (22 C). The 20th century average for June is 68.4 F (20 C).
Usually records are broken by one or two tenths of a degree, but “that’s a wide margin,” said Ahira Sanchez-Lugo, a NOAA climatologist. “It’s quite remarkable.”
While there is always natural variability involved, “our climate is changing,” she said.
Eight states – Arizona, California, Idaho, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Utah – experienced their hottest June, while six more experienced their second warmest. NOAA records date back 127 years.
“The recent heatwave reminds us that extreme temperatures can be a real danger in the workplace. With warmer weather coming, we are acting now, ”said Joel Sacks, director of the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.
Its rules are similar to the increased protections Oregon enacted on Thursday, but that state went further. Once the heat index exceeds 90 F (32 C), employers in Oregon must ensure effective communication between workers and supervisors so that employees can report concerns and must ensure that employees are monitored for alertness and signs of heat illness.
At 80 F (27 C) or higher, employers must provide sufficient shade and an adequate supply of potable water.
Agriculture-rich California adopted the country’s first rules requiring shade and water for farm workers in 2005 following 10 heat-related deaths – including four farm workers – over a period of two months.
Regulations have since been tightened, requiring employers to provide shade when temperatures exceed 80 ° F (27 ° C) and 15-minute breaks in the shade every hour when temperatures rise higher. Employers must also provide fresh drinking water in easily accessible places, toilets and hand washing facilities. When the weather is hot, many work in the middle of the night.
Associated Press Science writer Seth Borenstein in Washington, DC, and video reporter Terry Chea in Firebaugh, Calif., Contributed to this report.