Outdoor Oregon Workers to be Protected from Heat Waves and Wildfire Smoke

Outdoor Oregon Workers to be Protected from Heat Waves and Wildfire Smoke

Oregon OSHA started a rule-making process to ensure worker safety when working outside.

Extreme weather conditions are impacting Oregon workers. Oregon OSHA started the rule-making process to protect workers whose jobs keep them outside of climate-controlled settings during conditions of wildfire smoke or excessive heat. This includes delivery drivers, warehouse employees, public transit drivers and farmworkers. This rule-making comes from Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s proposal directing agencies like Oregon OSHA and the Oregon Health Authority to develop policies to protect workers from these types of exposures.

The proposal acknowledges summer heatwaves and wildfire smoke aren’t going anywhere due to burning fossil fuels that contribute to global warming. So far this year, the state is experiencing warmer temperatures and minimal rain.

Ira Cuello-Martinez, policy associate for the farmworkers union Pineros Y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), says red flag warnings have already been issued due to rising temperatures where many employees continue to work, despite the risks, because they can’t afford to miss a day.

“These things are going to be ongoing issues that are going to be becoming more relevant during our lifetimes as a result of the increase in global temperature, the increase in droughts, how long droughts are lasting,” he said.

According to an article, exposure to excessive heat can lead to heat-related stresses, such as, confusion, seizures, slurred speech and loss of consciousness. Wildfire smoke contains a mixture of gases from burning buildings to forests. Oregon OSHA and OHA are using tools including the Air Quality Index Monitor, which categorizes air quality into six levels. The air quality was extremely hazardous last year during the September wildfires, it recorded record-breaking numbers west of the Cascades.

Oregon OSHA will hold a listening session for workers to share their thoughts and experiences with excessive heat and wildfire smoke on May 25, 2021.

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