Oregon OSHA adopts emergency rules on wildfire smoke, high heat
Salem, OR — In response to “the extraordinary hazards that have been exacerbated by climate change,” Oregon OSHA has adopted a pair of emergency temporary rules that increase worker protections against wildfire smoke and high heat in employer-provided housing.
An Aug. 2 press release from the agency states that the rules are based largely on input from labor and employer stakeholders. Both rules went into effect Aug. 9 and are slated to remain so through Feb. 4.
The rule on wildfire smoke requires covered employers to provide relative information and training to workers, develop and implement a system to communicate associated hazards, and implement exposure engineering or administrative controls (e.g., enclosed buildings or vehicles where air can be adequately filtered and relocating work to another outdoor location with better air quality, respectively).
The rule applies to employers whose workers are or will be exposed to fine particulate matter – known as PM2.5 – from wildfire smoke that results in an air quality index of 101 or above. This level of air quality is especially harmful for workers with lung or heart issues, children, older adults, individuals who have diabetes, and pregnant women.
Under the rule on high heat, employers who provide housing for their workers are required to provide education on the dangers of heat illness. Covered employers also must:
- Provide cooling areas in each housing unit.
- Take certain steps to minimize heat in each unit, including making fans available at no cost to workers.
- Equip each unit with a thermometer that displays the temperature in both Fahrenheit and Celsius.
- Display the agency’s “Heat Risks in Housing” poster – available in English and Spanish – where occupants can see it.
- Make sure occupants have access to a working telephone to contact emergency services.
“We believe these rules provide better safeguards for workers and create greater clarity for employers as they move forward,” Oregon OSHA Administrator Michael Wood said in the release.
On Aug. 10, the agency announced the launch of a free, interactive online training course designed to help employers meet the training requirements in the wildfire smoke rule. The course covers topics such as symptoms of a wildfire smoke exposure, potential health effects of wildfire smoke, the definition of “sensitive groups” and employee rights.
The two rules come after Oregon OSHA, which operates under federal OSHA’s State Plan program, on July 8 adopted emergency regulations aimed at preventing heat illness in outdoor and indoor workplaces.