Farm workers

TUMWATER — The state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) and the Department of Health (DOH) are taking steps to strengthen COVID-19 protections for agriculture workers living in temporary worker housing.

Today, L&I filed an update to the state temporary worker housing emergency rules. In a joint action, DOH adopted the rules, too. Under the updated rules, which take effect immediately, agricultural employers must ensure that twice per day a licensed health care provider visits each occupant of temporary worker housing in isolation — regardless of if the employer or a third party provides the isolation facility.

Employers are also required to report to L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health within 24 hours of an occupant who is symptomatic or positive with COVID-19 being placed in isolation.

The updated rules also require employers to verify that any isolation facility used for ill or symptomatic occupants meets the specific requirements in the emergency rule before transporting an occupant there.

Protecting workers from coronavirus

The initial temporary worker housing emergency rules took effect on May 18. They detailed several required steps at agriculture housing sites to increase physical distancing, improve cleaning and sanitizing, and reduce the chance of a large outbreak or spreading of coronavirus.

Under the rules, employers must provide occupants of temporary worker housing with cloth face coverings and ensure physical distancing at housing sites, which includes all cooking, eating, bathing, washing, recreational, and sleeping facilities.

Farms must clean and disinfect surfaces in housing, and identify and isolate workers with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Physical distancing for beds and bunk beds

The emergency rules include specific physical distancing requirements for beds and bunk beds. Farms can only use the lower bunk of bunk beds, unless they use a “group shelter” option. Under that part of the rules, similar to situations with immediate family members, bunk beds are allowed if a group of workers (no more than 15) stays together and is separated from others for housing, work, and transportation. The group must keep the same individuals, cannot change members, and cannot live or work closely with others.

The updated requirements replace the May emergency rules that expire September 10. The updated emergency rules expire on January 8, 2021.

Guidance for specific industries

Along with updating the emergency rules, L&I has also filed public notice that it is engaging in rulemaking for permanent agriculture temporary worker housing rules in the coming months to address hazards from COVID-19 or other outbreaks of airborne infectious diseases. The permanent rules process will include formal opportunities for public input.

The nature of the outbreak changes daily so it’s important for everyone to have the most current information. L&I has a COVID-19 webpage, and there’s important information on the Department of Health and the state Coronavirus Response (COVID-19) sites.

Information is the best resource to keep workers and the public as safe as possible. L&I urges employers to stay as informed as possible, and to take all measures necessary to keep Washington workers safe and healthy.

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