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caption: Farmworker Carlos Vega carries an armful of tulips as the flowers are topped, on Tuesday, April 24, 2018, at one of RoozenGaarde's fields, near Mount Vernon. The tulips are topped in order to conserve the remaining energy for the bulbs.
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Farmworker Carlos Vega carries an armful of tulips as the flowers are topped, on Tuesday, April 24, 2018, at one of RoozenGaarde's fields, near Mount Vernon. The tulips are topped in order to conserve the remaining energy for the bulbs.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

WA issues new protections for outdoor workers following extreme heat wave

New emergency rules from the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries will soon require employers to provide shade from the sun and breaks for workers to cool down.

Washington is now the third state to regulate outdoor work conditions under extreme heat.

This comes after a record-breaking heat wave across the Pacific Northwest that at last count killed 78 people in Washington state alone, with hundreds more dead in Oregon and Canada. Among the deceased was a 38-year old Guatemalan farmworker in Oregon.

The emergency rules are coupled with previous ones, and kick in once it reaches 89 degrees — when employers have to provide workers with cool drinking water.

If it reaches 100 degrees, employers also have to provide shade and make sure workers have a paid cool-down period, where they get to rest for at least 10 minutes every couple hours. The rules go into effect Tuesday, July 13.

Some farmworker advocates say the rule is a good start, but it doesn’t go far enough.

"If you talk to workers out in the field, anything over 80 becomes really uncomfortable," said Edgar Franks, an organizer with Familias Unidas Por La Justicia, a farmworker union in Skagit County.

"Especially if you're working under a piece rate system, where you're paid by your production — you're going as fast as you can," he said.

Craig Blackwood is the acting assistant director for the state Department of Labor and Industries' Division of Occupational Safety and Health. He said, "In most cases, employers are doing the right thing and complying with the current heat stress rules." He added that the rules will encourage employers to plan ahead for any future heat waves this summer.

According to the agency, Washington has an average of 55 workers’ compensation claims per year for heat-related illnesses.

Republican State Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzvill, has pushed back, saying farmers are already taking steps to protect their workers, without a need for government regulation.

Forecast predictions say portions of Central Washington, like Yakima where workers are currently wrapping up the cherry harvest, will hit 102 this week.