In March 2020, Gov. Kate Brown told the Oregon branch of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to create a proposed set of rules aimed at protecting employees from extreme heat and excessive wildfire smoke. This proposal was originally due in July 2021, but was pushed back to September 2021 because of the pandemic.
While Oregon OSHA was putting together this proposal, Oregonians experienced a record-breaking heatwave in June. Temperatures reached upwards of 100 degrees, and on June 26, Sebastian Francisco Perez died while working in St. Paul. Oregon OSHA’s investigation is ongoing, but their preliminary report lists his death as heat-related. A vigil was held for Perez on July 3.
On July 8, at the direction of Brown, Oregon OSHA implemented temporary rules designed to broaden protections for workers during extreme heat. These new rules are effective immediately and will last for 180 days.
These rules cover workers both in- and outdoor and are more specific than the previous protections, which left the details of heat protection up to the employer.
Once temperatures reach 80 degrees, employers must provide 32 ounces of water. The water needs to be below 77 degrees, free, and easy for workers to access. Employees will be allowed enough time to drink their water. Employers also must provide enough shade for workers to take their breaks.
When temperatures reach 90 degrees, employers must give employees ten-minute breaks every two hours. Employers also need to create and implement a plan to acclimate workers to the heat and give employees a way to report concerns about the temperature. Employers need to observe their workers to make sure none of them are showing signs of heat illnesses.
Training to recognize heat illnesses for supervisors and employees needs to be completed by August 1.
According to the Oregon Environmental Council, the Northwest Workers’ Justice Program, and the largest farmworkers union in Oregon, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, these temporary rules offer the most protection in the nation. They will only be effective, however, if Oregon OSHA enforces them.