Northwestern states adopt emergency rules to protect workers from heat-related injuries

Heat is no joke for those who work outside, and this summer’s heat wave has made it not just uncomfortable but downright dangerous. As estimated 119 people in Oregon and 87 people in Washington have died from heat-related causes during the extreme heat already. Farmworkers are some of the most affected workers, being outside in the elements all day long, working for hours on end in a race to quickly and efficiently pick the harvest at peak time. This has led to no shortage of tragedies on the farm. For example, a farmworker who was moving irrigation lines at a plant nursery in Oregon died in the heat this summer.

Because of these risks, Oregon Occupational Health and Safety Division (Oregon’s OSHA) adopted an emergency rule on July 8th which increases the health and safety rules already in effect for outdoor employment. Under Oregon’s new rules, when the heat index is at or above 80 F (27 C), employers must provide workers with access to sufficient shade and an adequate supply of drinking water. When the heat index goes above 90 F (32 C), these rules all remain in effect but employers must take additional steps to ensure worker safety. These extra rules include creating a communication strategy between workers and supervisors so workers’ concerns are heard, observing workers for alertness and signs of heat illness, and providing an opportunity to cool down by taking a 10-minute rest break in the shade for every two hours worked.

Advocates call these new rules the most protective emergency heat rules in the nation, which may start a trend of other states also adopting similar measures. In fact, the very next day, Washington state adopted its own version of a temporary heat protection rule. Oregon’s and Washington’s rules became effective immediately and Oregon’s is in place for 180 days and Washington’s is in place through September. Get more information about Oregon’s new rule here. Get more information about Washington’s new rule here.