Department of Labor & Industries will hold public hearings throughout the state on Wildfire Smoke Rulemaking.
Each year, the Pacific Northwest is routinely faced with the threat of wildfire. Washingtonians understand that summer stereotypically brings with it more than warm weather and picnics. The summer conditions are conducive to fires that can devastate whole communities and natural resources. Simultaneously, the effects of wildfires are not limited to scorched areas of earth but reach far beyond. Wildfire smoke drifts throughout the state as it moves by the whims of the wind.
Farmers and ranchers throughout the state are particularly aware of the impact of wildfire smoke. As wildfire season and harvest season tend to overlap, farm operations work diligently to mitigate the impact of smoke inhalation and provide safe outdoor working conditions.
In mid-May of this year, the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I), Division of Occupational Safety and Health filed a proposed rulemaking. The intent of the proposal is to regulate the activities of those working when wildfire smoke may be present. The proposal identifies the existence of a wildfire smoke hazard once the Air Quality Index (AQI) reached the level of 69 or greater. The proposed rule dictates what precautionary actions are needed as the AQI reaches heightened levels.
Any industry in the state, with workers primarily outdoors, is encouraged to take great care to mitigate the threat of wildfire smoke inhalation. The agriculture sector alone has established high standards for itself as farmers work to protect the workers, their crops, and animals.
Washington Farm Bureau Safety Director, Dominique Damian, expressed that worker safety is already of paramount importance and additional regulations from a governmental agency may not be beneficial. Damian said, "Farmers are problem solvers. Once employers identify new hazards, they don't wait for regulation. They get to work on a method that fits their work environment." From providing N95 masks to conducting training on where to find the AQI, Washington Farm Bureau works to proactively equip farming operations with the tools needed to protect farmers and keep production moving.
Throughout the month of July, L&I has scheduled seven public hearings which will be located throughout the state including a virtual public hearing for individuals to take part remotely. Damian encouraged farmers and ranchers around the state to engage in these public meetings and share their perspective. “Our members think of their employees as family. They want the best for them and want them to go home in the same condition they arrived.”
In addition to the public hearings, interested parties are encouraged to submit written comments to L&I directly. All written comments are due by 5 PM on August 4. For a full list of the public hearing schedule, locations, and how to submit written comments visit https://lni.wa.gov/safety-health/safety-rules/rulemaking-stakeholder-information/wildfire-smoke.