22 Feb LABOR AND ENVIRONMENTAL COALITION ASKS OREGON OSHA TO STRENGTHEN HEAT AND SMOKE RULES FOR WORKERS
February 21, 2022
The Oregon Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) released the final draft rules on excessive heat and wildfire smoke on February 1, starting a public comment period that will close on March 18, 2022. On February 23 and February 25 Oregon OSHA will hold public hearings about the heat and worker housing rules. On March 2 and March 4 Oregon OSHA will hold public hearings about the wildfire smoke rule.
During these upcoming hearings, a coalition including the Oregon AFL-CIO, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), The Oregon Environmental Council, Northwest Workers’ Justice Project, and Climate Jobs PDX will testify on the changes they want to see made to the final sets of rules.
“Over the past few years, farmworkers have experienced an increase in exposure to excessive heat and wildfire smoke. We are pleased to see Oregon OSHA propose to adopt the strongest rules in the country for workers exposed to these climate hazards, but we also recognize that they can still be improved. These are basic protections to ensure workers’ health and safety.” said Reyna Lopez, Executive Director of PCUN.
“We know that Oregon’s excessive heat and smoke problems will continue in the summer months and workers must be protected,” said Graham Trainor, Oregon AFL-CIO President. “Oregon’s unions are firmly committed to making sure Oregon OSHA creates the strongest rules possible so that outdoor or indoor workers who are exposed to excessive heat and wildfire smoke are protected as best as possible. The stakes are too high for anything less.”
“We’re thrilled that OSHA is in the final stages of approving rules that will make Oregon a national leader for worker protections,” said Jamie Pang, Environmental Health Program Director for Oregon Environmental Council. “We support rules based on sound science, climate trends, public safety, and common sense such as having high heat provisions enacted when the heat index reaches 90 degrees Fahrenheit. However, we implore OSHA to remove loopholes in the rules for worker rest schedules and to finalize the strongest rules possible, and set the bar for the rest of the nation.”
Kate Suisman, attorney at NW Workers’ Justice Project, added, “We and other groups have been fighting for strong, statewide rules for over 5 years. For too long, workers have been waiting for specific protections against the ever-increasing risks of climate hazards. Oregon will be setting the bar for other state and national action, so we need to make these rules as meaningful and as protective as possible.”
“Workers from many walks of life – farm workers, workers at warehouses and household hazardous waste facilities, bus drivers, and more – have shared how they suffered for hours in excessive heat and air unbreathable with wildfire smoke. We are looking to OSHA to close remaining loopholes on heat and add stronger requirements on smoke in their rules so that Oregon workers will have the good protections they deserve.” said Laurie King of Climate Jobs PDX.
Among changes the coalition would like to see to the rules are removal of the exemption from protections for work considered “light,” setting the trigger for respirator requirement at AQI 201, the beginning of very unhealthy, vs. at 251, in the middle of the EPA’s very unhealthy category, and lastly, closing the loophole for protecting workers from excessive heat in farmworker housing so that all farmworkers are well protected.