May 18, 2020Farmworker housing rules increase worker safety in Washington state
New emergency rules adopted May 13 regarding temporary farmworker housing will help increase worker safety and reduce the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). The rules detail specific steps required at farms where temporary workers live in licensed temporary housing facilities.
According to a news release, the emergency rules, a joint effort between the state departments of Labor & Industries (L&I) and Health, take effect on May 18. They spell out several required steps to increase physical distancing, improve cleaning and sanitizing, and reduce the chance of a large outbreak or spreading of coronavirus related to temporary worker housing at farms.
Protecting workers from coronavirus
Under the emergency 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 are required to frequently clean and disinfect surfaces in housing, and must 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. Beds must be at least six feet apart with occupants sleeping head to toe. Beds can be closer when they’re separated by a floor to ceiling temporary non-permeable barrier; a minimum aisle of three feet between the bed and barrier is required.
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.
No later than May 28, employers must submit revised temporary worker housing management plans to the state Department of Health that demonstrate how they will comply with the emergency rules requirements. Employers can request a variance to the emergency rules if they have a proposal for an equally effective way to protect people living in temporary worker housing.
During the rules process, the agencies received and considered more than 500 comments on the draft rules. The final rules are available online.
Guidance for specific industries
L&I has issued coronavirus workplace safety guidance for numerous industries including agriculture, grocery workers, janitorial workers, and construction. All are available on the L&I Division of Occupational Safety and Health coronavirus webpage.
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.