Oregon OSHA issues emergency heat rule 


JUSTICE FOR SEBASTIAN FRANCISCO PEREZ: A vigil at the United Farm Workers office in Hermiston was one of three held around Oregon July 3 to call for heat protections after a St. Paul nursery worker died June 26 of heat exposure.

By Don McIntosh

It took a frightening three-day heat wave and at least one on-the-job death to light a fire under the agency, but on July 8, the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said employers must now take steps to protect workers during extremely hot weather. Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries already had such a rule, but increased its requirements as of July 13. The rules say when the weather gets hot, employers must provide water and shade breaks to workers. 

Oregon OSHA has dragged its feet on the issue for years. In October 2016, Kate Suisman of the Northwest Workers Justice Project, along with union leaders like Scott Oldham of Painters Local 10, asked the worker safety agency to protect workers from heat. Suisman says the agency wasn’t convinced a rule was needed, but she and others kept pushing, and in early 2020 Oregon OSHA said it would develop a rule… by 2025.

That timetable changed after Republican state lawmakers walked out in March 2020 to kill a climate jobs bill that Democrats had declared a priority. In response, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced climate-related steps she could take under her own authority, including directing Oregon OSHA to develop a rule by March 2021 June 30, 2021, to protect workers exposed to heat and wildfire smoke. Then the pandemic hit. Rulemaking slowed, and the finish line was moved to September 2021.

But when a historic heat wave broke temperature records three days in a row June 26-28, Brown decided workers had waited long enough, and ordered Oregon OSHA July 6 to issue a temporary rule by the end of the week.

“I am concerned that our recent record-breaking heat wave in the Willamette Valley is a harbinger of what’s to come,” Brown said in a press statement on the order.

Excessive heat on the job isn’t a new issue. In the last two decades over 900 workers’ compensation claims have been filed over illnesses brought on by excessive heat, but 85% of the claims have been denied. With the climate warming, heat exposure is becoming a more serious threat to workers. 

Oregon OSHA is still working on its permanent rule, which should be finalized by September.

Your rights under Oregon’s new rule

When the heat index (temp+humidity) is over 80º, your employer must:

  • Provide access to shade during breaks
  • Provide cool drinking water at no cost, enough for you to drink a quart (32 oz.) per hour

When the heat index is above 90º, your employer must also:

  • Provide a cool-down rest period in the shade of 10 minutes for every two hours of work
  • Ensure that you and your co-workers are observed for alertness and signs of heat illness, and monitored to determine whether medical attention is necessary

Your rights under Washington’s rule

Washington’s rule uses simple temperature, not heat index. 

Over 89º, your employer must:

  • Provide cool drinking water
  • Encourage workers to take additional paid cool-down rest to protect from overheating

Over 100º, your employer must also:

  • Provide shade or another sufficient means for employees to cool down
  • Provide a cool-down rest period in the shade of 10 minutes for every two hours of work


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