Salem, OR

Oregon OSHA urges employer compliance with new worker protections

Melanie Henshaw
(Jarosław Kwoczała/Unsplash)

(SALEM, Ore.) Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration is urging employers to meet their obligations to employees under the temporary rules issued last month. On July 8, Oregon OSHA adopted temporary rules to improve protections for workers in high and extreme heat conditions after a deadly heat wave last month caused at least two workplace fatalities in the state.

The temporary protections, which last until Jan 3, 2022 or a more permanent rule is implemented, cite last month’s fatal heat wave as the reason for implementing the temporary rules, which could be in place as early as this Fall.

As of July 8, employers in Oregon are required to provide adequate drinking water and shade to employees in work environments where temperatures exceed 80 degrees. Before Aug. 1, were required employers must train workers who face hot working conditions on the symptoms of heat-related illness and how to prevent it. 

When temperatures exceed 90 degrees, employers must enact all of the former protections as well as additional measures including regular cool-down breaks and communicating and observing employees working in the heat.

Although workers cannot be punished for raising safety concerns about their working conditions, employees in Oregon can be fired for not showing up to work in extreme heat. Oregon OSHA does not presently have the authority to shutter businesses that do not comply with its regulations.

OSHA requires employers to develop an emergency medical plan should heat-related illness arise, as well as to implement acclimatization practices. 

The agency drew criticism from labor advocates for the lack of protections in place for workers facing extreme heat after June’s heat wave. Executive director of PCUN, Pineros y Campesinos del Noroeste, a Northwest farmworkers’ union, told the Statesman Journal the lack of protections were “shameful” in response to the death of an Oregon farmworker during the heat wave. 

On June 26 in St. Paul, Ore., 38-year-old farm worker Sebastian Francisco Perez died while moving irrigation lines during the record-setting heat wave. Protesters demonstrated outside the Oregon OSHA offices after his death, calling for protections for workers facing extreme heat. 

At least one other person died on the job during the June temperature surge. An initial report from Oregon OSHA describes the deceased as a Hillsboro construction worker who succumbed to “heat stress” 11 days after collapsing on the job on June 28, when temperatures in Hillsboro reached 114 degrees, according to the National Weather Service

Although temperatures this week are not predicted to be as high as last month’s record-setting heat dome, parts of southern Oregon could reach as high as 106 degrees, Portland topping out at 99 and Eugene at 100 degrees. 

OSHA says it will be strictly enforcing its new rules. 

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Multimedia journalist passionate about covering issues regarding the environment and Indigenous rights, and food. Always searching for the next great meal.

Eugene, OR

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