By DON McINTOSH
It took a few years, but Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health agency has finalized rules protecting Oregon workers from heat and smoke. The heat rules went into effect June 15, and the wildfire smoke rules on July 1.
A trio of business groups sued June 21 in U.S. District Court in Medford in a last-ditch attempt to stop the rules, but for now they remain in effect. Oregon Manufacturers and Commerce, Associated Oregon Loggers Inc. and the Oregon Forest Industries Council argue in their suit that some of the rules are too vague and also that the agency overstepped its statutory authority by adopting them.
The rules were put in place after an executive order from Oregon governor Kate Brown and they follow years of advocacy by labor, environmental and workers rights groups. Those groups—including PCUN, Oregon Environmental Council, Oregon AFL-CIO, Northwest Workers’ Justice Project, Climate Jobs, and National Employment Law Project—declared they’ll defend the new rules.
“Oregon’s unions will not stand for any rollback to critical heat and smoke protections for workers,” said Oregon AFL-CIO president Graham Trainor in a coalition press statement reacting to the suit. “As Oregonians well know, our state now experiences high heat and wildfire smoke annually and the importance of protecting workers from these conditions cannot be overstated.”
OR-OSHA’S HEAT RULES
HEAT INDEX Oregon OSHA’s heat rule uses something called the “heat index.” Heat index is a “feels like” measurement that factors humidity into account, because it’s harder for the body to cool itself through perspiration when humidity is high. A federal OSHA smartphone app can tell you what the heat index is right now where you are. Download it at osha.gov/heat/heat-app
WHEN HEAT INDEX ≥ 80° F
- SHADE Provide shade, with ventilation for cooling, as close as practical to where employees are working, and with enough room for all employees who are resting at a given time.
- WATER Provide enough cool drinking water (below 77° F) that each employee can consume 32 ounces per hour.
WHEN HEAT INDEX > 90° F
Both of the above, plus:
- COMMUNICATION Stay in regular communication with employees working alone, and institue a mandatory buddy system.
- EXTRA BREAKS Ensure that each employee takes extra rest breaks to prevent heat illness, a 10-minute break every 2 hours when working between 90 and 100 degrees, and a 15-minute break every hour at above 100 degrees.
OR-OSHA’S SMOKE RULES
AIR QUALITY INDEX Oregon OSHA’s smoke rule applies to employees who work outdoors. It uses something called the “air quality index” or AQI. AQI is reported on a scale from 0 to 500 and is based on measurements of ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and above all the microscopic particles that make up smoke. Many smartphone weather apps list AQI for your local area. You can also download an app from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at airnow.gov/airnow-mobile-app
WHEN AQI ≥ 101
- PROVIDE MASKS Provide a respirator, such as a N95, to all exposed employees for voluntary use.
WHEN AQI > 250
- REQUIRE MASKS Ensure that employees wear approved respirators such as such as a N95.
NOTE: An earlier version of this wrongly said the rules require a 15-minute break every two hours when the heat index is above 100.º It’s every hour. Thanks to an alert reader for pointing out the error.