The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced two more temporary measures aimed at protecting workers from high temperatures and wildfire smoke.
Early in July, OSHA laid out new and specific rules employers needed to follow in the wake of a brutal heatwave. These temporary rules covered things like access to shade, water, and adequate break times.
OSHA’s new rules go into effect on August 9 and will last 180 days. The first of these rules is designed to protect workers from poor air quality caused by wildfires. When the Air Quality Index reads 101 or above, employers are required to provide N95 masks. A full breakdown of OSHA’s new wildfire smoke safety rules can be found in this document.
In addition to providing N95s, employers will be required to train employees to recognize symptoms of wildfire exposure should they continue to work when the AQI is above 101. This training will need to happen before August 16.
While Corvallis has been relatively smoke-free this year, wildfires last year blanketed the area in dense smoke and raised the AQI to around 800. The scale usually tops out at 500 or “hazardous.”
The second new OSHA rule deals with temperatures in employee housing. The new rule states that employees must have access to a room or areas that are 78 degrees or cooler, consistent and constant access to emergency services, and training in recognizing heat-related illnesses and their dangers.
Nora Apter, climate program director of the Oregon Environmental Council, said she was glad to see new rules adopted to protect workers but would like to see more put in place. In addition to implementing a buddy system to monitor potential health effects, Apter also would have liked paid breaks while air quality is hazardous. She also worries about how OSHA will enforce the use of N95s, a resource we’ve already seen become scarce due to the continuing pandemic and increased wildfires.
“We know those can be hard to come by — especially when wildfire smoke begins to affect broader areas and populations,” said Apter. “They can be of course in very high demand and therefore in short supply.”