Oregon OSHA has adopted a new heat standard and new rules regarding wildfire smoke that are said to be the most protective in the U.S.
Both rules “are the most protective of their kind in the country and reflect the need to strengthen protections in the workplace while focusing on the needs of Oregon’s most vulnerable communities,” according to information Oregon OSHA provided to The Statesman Journal.
The heat rule takes effect June 15 while the wildfire rule is effective July 1.
Oregon’s new heat standard requires employers to provide workers with access to shade, cool water, breaks and training on heat hazards.
The rule goes into effect any time the heat index passes 80 degrees and adds additional oversights when the heat index reaches 90 degrees.
This standard was introduced after more than 100 people died statewide in a June 2021 heatwave when temperatures reached a record 117 degrees.
Sebastian Francisco Perez, a worker at Ernst Nursery and Farms, died at work on a 104-degree day.
Oregon OSHA released temporary heat rules in July 2021.
The permanent rule says that when the heat index passes 80 degrees employers must establish and maintain one or more shaded areas for outdoor workers and supply them with at least 32 ounces of cool or cold drinking water per hour.
When the heat index hits 90 degrees, employers must:
- monitor for signs of heat illness, including regular communication with lone workers or through creation of a mandatory buddy system
- designate and equip at least one employee at each worksite to call for medics
- develop a written heat rest break schedule providing a minimum 10-minute break every two hours when temperatures reach 90 degrees and a 15-minute break every hour when temperatures reach 100 degrees, and
- develop training on heat illness prevention, including how to recognize symptoms and respond to others who are experiencing a heat-related illness.
Wildfire smoke rule
In 2020, Oregon experienced multiple wildfires on Labor Day, resulting in thousands of agricultural workers having to work in smoky conditions.
Many of them experienced headaches, nausea, loss of appetite and other symptoms from inhaling the smoke while being required to continue to work in dangerous conditions.
Air quality in affected areas “topped 400 on the air quality index (AQI) scale” with some locations topping the 500 mark. Levels over 100 are considered unhealthy. The elderly and people with other health conditions may experience more serious effects when the AQI is over 151. Levels over 300 are considered hazardous.
Oregon OSHA issued guidance at the time and a temporary standard went into effect in 2021 requiring employers to train workers on wildfire smoke hazards.
The permanent rule requires employers to take precautions when the ambient air concentration for fine particulate matter is at PM2.5 or at an AQI of 101.
PM2.5 are solid particles and liquid droplets suspended in air with an aerodynamic diameter of 2.5 micrometers or smaller and measured in mircograms per cubic meter.
When concentrations reach the PM2.5 or AQI 101 stage, employers must:
- provide information and training on addressing wildfire smoke, including symptoms of exposure and the chronic effects of exposure
- train workers on the importance of using a filtering facepiece respirator and requiring employers to make such respirators readily accessible to workers for no charge, and
- communicate wildfire smoke information to employees, including changes in air quality and health symptoms resulting from exposure to smoke.