Oregon OSHA’s Emergency Heat Rules Are a Good Start to Protecting At-Risk Workers; Strong Enforcement Will be Necessary

For immediate release- July 8, 2021 


Brad Reed, Renew Oregon, Brad@reneworegon.org, (971) 217-6813 

Ira Cuello-Martinez, PCUN iracuello@pcun.org, (503) 851-5774 

Kate Suisman, Northwest Justice Workers Project kate@nwjp.org, 503-765-7105 Jamie Pang, Oregon Environmental Council, JamieP@OECOnline.org, (971) 353-7963 

Oregon OSHA’s Emergency Heat Rules Are a Good Start to Protecting At-Risk Workers; Strong  Enforcement Will be Necessary 

SALEM, Ore— Oregon OSHA today issued emergency rules protecting workers from climate-fueled  excessive heat, following an extensive campaign by workers’ rights, environmental, and public health  advocates. Governor Kate Brown directed the agency to adopt emergency rules following the tragic and  preventable death of 38-year-old farmworker, Sebastian Francisco Perez. Perez died while working on a  tree farm in St. Paul, Oregon during the height of last week’s heatwave. Oregon OSHA is in the process  of drafting permanent rules to protect workers from exposure to both excessive heat and wildfire smoke,  expected to be finalized this fall. Given the unprecedented extreme temperatures and grim forecasts of  another devastating wildfire season, advocacy groups have pressed Oregon OSHA to adopt emergency  rules to protect workers from climate hazards this summer. The tragic death of Perez makes it clearer than  ever: protections for workers simply cannot wait. 

The emergency heat rules enacted today are the most protective in the nation. Under the new temporary  rules, employers must provide workers access to shade or alternative cooling measures, adequate supply  of cool drinking water, and training for both supervisors and employees. Safeguards are activated once  the heat index reaches 80 degrees Fahrenheit and apply to both indoor and outdoor workplaces. Beginning  August 1st, 2021, employers must ensure that all employees and supervisors are trained in a number of  heat stress related topics, including how to identify symptoms of heat-related illness. 

Importantly, high heat procedures are triggered when the heat index reaches 90 degrees Fahrenheit—an  improvement from the California heat standard that PCUN, Northwest Workers’ Justice Project, and  Oregon Environmental Council pushed for to be more protective of frontline workers. The high heat  procedures include requiring employers to: observe workers for signs of heat illness or create a mandatory  buddy system, provide additional paid breaks every two hours, and develop and implement an emergency  medical plan. 

While advocates applaud the adoption of emergency heat rules, there are still concerns about whether they  will be adequately enforced. In the case of Perez, the contractor and nursery had repeatedly violated other  OSHA standards yet continued to place workers at risk. 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.

Oregon OSHA is also considering adopting emergency rules to protect workers from wildfire smoke this  August. In the case of both wildfire smoke and excessive heat, these rules are only temporary; advocates  will continue to push for the strongest possible permanent protections for workers through the ongoing  rulemaking processes.  

“We can and must protect people with common sense actions.,” says 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. 

“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. 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 is  climate policy that will allow our communities to be healthy and thrive in the long term.” Said Reyna  Lopez, Executive Director of PCUN. 

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.” 

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