How does your heat stress prevention plan stack up against a state regulation which experts are calling the toughest in the nation?
Emergency rules to protect Oregon workers from extreme heat have been adopted by the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Division following the heat-related death of a farmworker June 26.
On July 8, the state agency adopted an emergency temporary standard (ETS) as Oregon continues to face extreme temperatures that have already killed more than 100 people in the state.
The ETS expands on requirements set for employers to provide shade, breaks and water for workers during periods of extreme heat.
Worker advocates say Oregon’s rule is not the most protective in the nation for employees.
The state is working on a permanent heat standard, although the deadline for a proposal was pushed back to September because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the recent heatwave across the western U.S. that has seen temperatures reach 104 degrees or higher led to the push for an ETS following the death of Sebastian Francisco Perez.
Perez was a Guatemalan immigrant who arrived in the U.S. May 5 as a worker for Ernst Nursery and Farms where he’d been part of a crew moving irrigations lines.
He was found unresponsive in the field at the end of his shift, and Oregon OSHA attributed his death to the extreme heat, leading to an ongoing investigation of Ernst Nursery and the company that provides its workers, Brother Farm Labor Contractor.
Ernst Nursery was cited in 2014 for failing to provide water to its workers.
While 107 people in Oregon have died from the extreme heat, Perez was the only one to have died on the job so far.
When the heat index is 80 degrees or higher, employers are required to provide:
- access to sufficient shade (specifics below), and
- an adequate supply of drinking water (specifics below).
When the heat index rises above 90 degrees, all of the rules for 80 degrees apply and, in addition, employers must:
- ensure effective communication between an employee and a supervisor is maintained so that an employee can report concerns.
- ensure that employees are observed for alertness and signs and symptoms of heat illness and monitored to determine whether medical attention is necessary.
- provide a cool-down rest period in the shade of 10 minutes for every two hours of work. These preventive cool-down rest periods may be provided concurrently with any other meal or rest period required by policy, rule, or law, and
- develop and implement an emergency medical plan and practices to gradually adapt employees to working in the heat.
To be sufficient, shade must:
- be provided by any natural or artificial means that does not expose employees to unsafe or unhealthy conditions and that does not deter or discourage access or use
- either be open to the air or provide mechanical ventilation for cooling
- at least accommodate the number of employees on recovery or rest periods, so that they can sit in in the shade
- be located as close as practical to the areas where employees are working, and
- be large enough to accommodate the number of employees during a meal period that remain onsite.
To qualify as an adequate supply of drinking water, it must:
- be readily accessible to employees at all times and at no cost
- enable each employee to consume 32 ounces per hour
- be cool (35-77 degrees Fahrenheit), and
- must not contain caffeine.
No later than Aug 1, 2021, employers must ensure that all employees, including new employees, supervisory, and non-supervisory employees, are trained in the following topics, in a language readily understood, before they begin work in a heat index equal to or in excess of 80 degrees Fahrenheit:
- the environmental and personal risk factors for heat illness, as well as the added burden of heat load on the body caused by exertion, clothing, and personal protective equipment
- the procedures for complying with the requirements of this standard, including the employer’s responsibility to provide water, provide daily heat index information, shade, cool-down rests, and access to first aid as well as the employees’ right to exercise their rights under this standard without fear of retaliation
- the concept, importance, and methods of adapting to working in a hot environment
- the importance of employees immediately reporting symptoms or signs of heat illness in themselves, or in co-workers
- the effects of non-job factors (medications, alcohol, obesity, etc.) on tolerance to workplace heat stress, and
- the different types of heat-related illness, and the common signs and symptoms of heat-related illness.