Oregon adopts emergency smoke and heat workplace rules

Yesterday Oregon OSHA adopted two new emergency rules to protect workers from wildland smoke and those living in employer provided housing from excessive heat. Earlier last month Oregon OSHA adopted emergency measures to protect indoor and outdoor workers from excessive heat. Although not everyone may agree with the exact wording or the mandatory measures, these actions were applauded by many advocates who worry about the health and well-being of Oregon’s workers.

The two newest rules go into effect on August 9, 2021 and will remain in effect for 180 days. Both reflect ongoing work to better protect all of Oregon’s workers from ill effects related to increased heat and wildland fires exacerbated by climate change. At the same time, Oregon OSHA along with active participation from a committee composed of worker advocates, employers and other public health experts, work to craft and soon after adopt permanent rules on wildland smoke and heat.

For the best and most detailed information on the two newest emergency rules, read Oregon OSHA’s August 2, 2021 Press Release. Here is a overview of the three newest guidelines and rules:

  1. On July 8, 2021, Oregon OSHA adopted two emergency temporary rules – 437-002-0155 and 437-004-1130 – following direction from Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to protect workers from heat-related illnesses. These rules apply to agriculture workplaces (437-002-0155) and all other workplaces (437-004-1130). The rule applies whenever an employee is working and the heat index equals or exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Oregon OSHA offers free consultation and educational resources to help employers comply with the rule, which took effect immediately when it was adopted July 8. Download a fact sheet to outline key provisions including:
    1. Access to shade
    2. Drinking water
    3. Supervisor and employee training
    4. High heat practices when heat index exceeds 90 degrees Fahrenheit and including requirements for an emergency medical plan and practices to address acclimatization.
  2. On August 2, 2021, Oregon OSHA adopted an emergency wildfire smoke rule. This rule applies to employers whose employees are – or will be – exposed to wildfire smoke where the ambient air concentration for fine particulate matter (also known as PM2.5) is at or above an Air Quality Index (AQI) 101, which is unhealthy for sensitive groups. Learn more about the details. Key components of this rule include:
    1. Information and training (beginning August 16, 2021).
    2. Communication system
    3. Exposure controls including using engineering and administrative controls to reduce employee exposure to less than 201 AQI, and use of respirators.
  3. On August 2, 2021, Oregon OSHA adopted an employer-provided housing heat rule. Learn more about the details. Key provisions of this rule address:
    1. Provision of cooling areas
    2. Minimizing heat in housing units
    3. Increasing temperature awareness by employer-provided thermometers inside housing.
    4. Additional training for employees and supervisors
    5. Access to emergency services

As we enter this month of August, we are sadly reminded of the tremendous loss of life already in Oregon this summer due to excessive heat. We are also appreciative of our wildland fire fighters as they work excessively long shifts and under conditions most of us can’t imagine. We are hopeful these rules, even as they might be construed by some to be difficult to put into place, will help keep our workforce safer and healthier.

Learn more:
Oregon OSHA resources on heat stress prevention
Oregon OSHA: Agricultural Labor Housing
Oregon Health Authority: Wildfires and Smoke
OccHealthSci’s Spring Symposium recordings: Adapting to Climate Change and Worker Health
Recent article in ASSP Professional Safety: Climate Change and the Safety Professional