Heatwave sparks emergency rule
Oregon OSHA announced Thursday that it adopted an emergency rule aimed at protecting workers from the dangers of high and extreme heat.
The temporary rule takes effect immediately and remains in place for 180 days, during which time framers will be working on a permanent heat-stress prevention rule anticipated to be adopted in the fall.
The temporary rule was adopted following direction from Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to enact emergency measures. It comes in the wake of an extreme, record-breaking heatwave that claimed more than 100 lives in Oregon, including Sebastian Francisco Perez, who died while working on a tree farm in St. Paul during the height of that heatwave.
Farmworker advocates expressed approval of the swift action but also stressed that enforcement is crucial.
OSHA officials said the temporary rule applies to any workplace – outdoors and indoors – where heat dangers are caused by the weather, since the risks of working in high heat are not going away this, or any, summer.
"In the face of an unprecedented heat wave in the Pacific Northwest – and tragic consequences – it is absolutely critical that we continue to build up our defenses against the effects of climate change, including extreme heat events," said Andrew Stolfi, director of the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services, which includes Oregon OSHA.
"This rule creates greater clarity for employers about the specific steps that need to be taken to protect workers from heat stress dangers at work," Oregon ASHA Administrator Michael Wood said. "For employees, it further crystalizes their existing rights to protection from heat hazards where they work."
Representatives from several farmworker advocacy groups, including PCUN, Renew Oregon, Northwest Justice Workers Project and Oregon Environmental Council, weighed in on the OSHA action. They emphasized that the tragic death of Perez makes it clearer than ever: protections for workers simply cannot wait.
"We can and must protect people with common sense actions," said Jamie Pang, environmental health program director at Oregon Environmental Council. "The extreme heat Oregon experienced is just the beginning. It is critical we come together to prioritize and protect the lives of working people on the frontlines of climate hazards."
The advocates described the emergency heat rules as the most protective in the nation. But they emphasized that rules are ineffective unless enforcement gives them teeth.
In a collectively crafted press release, the advocacy groups noted: "While advocates applaud the adoption of emergency heat rules, there are still concerns about whether they will be adequately enforced… Advocates will continue informing workers on their workplace rights as the emergency rules are implemented because the rules will have no significant impact on workers if they are not fully enforced by Oregon OSHA."
PCUN Executive Director Reyna Lopez said it this emergency rule is a good start, but it important to keep an eye on the ball.
"Farmworkers are asking for basic protections and working conditions; Oregon OSHA is taking an important step forward in leading the nation on standards for outdoors workers," Lopez said. "It's crucial that we continue to take steps towards long-term policy shifts in our state that take climate change and workers safety seriously. That means creating standards that keep people safe, while engaging stakeholders in climate policy that will allow our communities to be healthy and thrive in the long term."
Attorney Kate Suisman of the Northwest Workers' Justice Project added: "Every workplace death is preventable. With these new rules, Oregon has a chance to lead the country in ensuring workplaces are safe from high heat, especially for those doing the most demanding and dangerous jobs like farming and construction."
When the heat index is equal to or above 80 degrees Fahrenheit employers are required to provide:
--Access to sufficient shade;
--An adequate supply of drinking water.
When the heat index rises above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, all of the rules for 80 degrees apply and, in addition, employers must:
--Ensure effective communication between an employee and a supervisor is maintained so that an employee can report concerns.
--Ensure that employees are observed for alertness and signs and symptoms of heat illness and monitored to determine whether medical attention is necessary.
--Provide a cool-down rest period in the shade of 10 minutes for every two hours of work. These preventative cool-down rest periods may be provided concurrently with any other meal or rest period required by policy, rule, or law.
--Develop and implement an emergency medical plan and practices to gradually adapt employees to working in the heat.
Access to shade
To be sufficient, shade must:
--Be provided by any natural or artificial means that does not expose employees to unsafe or unhealthy conditions and that does not deter or discourage access or use.
--Either be open to the air or provide mechanical ventilation for cooling.
--At least accommodate the number of employees on recovery or rest periods, so that they can sit in in the shade.
--Be located as close as practical to the areas where employees are working.
--Shade present during meal periods must be large enough to accommodate the number of employees on the meal period that remain onsite.
To qualify as an adequate supply of drinking water, it must:
--Be readily accessible to employees at all times and at no cost.
--Enable each employee to consume 32 ounces per hour.
--Be cool (66-77 degrees Fahrenheit) or cold (35-65 degrees Fahrenheit).
--Drinking water packaged as a consumer product and electrolyte-replenishing drinks that do not contain caffeine (for example, sports drinks) are acceptable substitutes, but should not completely replace the required water.
--Employers must also ensure that employees have ample opportunity to drink water.
No later than Aug 1, 2021, employers must ensure that all employees, including new employees, supervisory, and non-supervisory employees, are trained in the following topics, in a language readily understood, before they begin work in a heat index equal to or in excess of 80 degrees Fahrenheit:
--The environmental and personal risk factors for heat illness, as well as the added burden of heat load on the body caused by exertion, clothing, and personal protective equipment.
--The procedures for complying with the requirements of this standard, including the employer's responsibility to provide water, provide daily heat index information, shade, cool-down rests, and access to first aid as well as the employees' right to exercise their rights under this standard without fear of retaliation.
--The concept, importance, and methods of adapting to working in a hot environment.
--The importance of employees immediately reporting symptoms or signs of heat illness in themselves, or in co-workers.
--The effects of non-job factors (medications, alcohol, obesity, etc.) on tolerance to workplace heat stress.
--The different types of heat-related illness, and the common signs and symptoms of heat-related illness.
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