On July 8, 2021, Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Oregon OSHA) adopted emergency Heat Illness Prevention rules to establish workplace heat safety requirements that apply when temperatures in a work area reach or exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The rules are effective immediately.
Oregon OSHA is in the middle of rulemaking activity for a permanent heat standard which it initiated under direction from Executive Order 20-04, issued on March 10, 2020. On July 6, 2021, Governor Kate Brown directed Oregon OSHA to issue these emergency rules immediately after the state experienced record-setting heat in June 2021. The permanent rulemaking is ongoing, but these emergency rules will stay in effect until the permanent rule is complete.
Scope and Application
The emergency standard applies to work performed in both indoor and outdoor environments when the temperature in the work area is at or above 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Additional rules apply when the temperature breaches 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The standard does not apply to incidental exposure (less than 15 minutes of exposed work activity in any 60-minute period), to transportation of employees inside vehicles when they are not otherwise performing work, or where other standards apply (e.g., where heat is generated from a work process).
Shade and Drinking Water. Under the emergency standard, when employees are exposed to a work area temperature at or above 80 degrees, the employer must provide a shade area meeting certain specifications or must provide alternative cooling measures where providing access to shade is not safe or feasible. Employers must additionally provide employees with access to an adequate supply of drinking water to ensure that each employee may consume 32 ounces of water per hour.
Training. By August 1, 2021, employers must provide training to all employees who can reasonably be anticipated to be exposed to temperatures in the work area at or above 80 degrees. The training must be in a language readily understood, and must cover environmental and personal risk factors for heat illness, employee and employer rights and obligations under the heat standard, acclimatization, the importance of quickly reporting signs or symptoms of illness, factors affecting tolerance of heat stress, and common signs and symptoms of different types of heat-related illness.
High Heat Practices. When temperatures in the work area exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit, employers must implement additional practices. Employers must maintain effective communication between employees at the worksite and supervisors; ensure employees are observed and monitored for signs and symptoms of heat illness (by providing means of regular communication to employees working alone, establishing a mandatory buddy system, or implementing an equally effective system of observation or communication); designate at least one employee per worksite as responsible and authorized to call for emergency medical services; and ensure that each employee takes a 10-minute rest in the shade at least every two hours. Finally, employers whose workers may be exposed to temperatures in excess of 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the work area must develop and implement effective “acclimatization” practices. Such practices ensure gradual exposure to allow for the temporary adaptation of the body to work in heat.
Emergency Medical Plan. Employers whose employees may be exposed to temperatures in excess of 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the work area must maintain an effective emergency medical plan. The emergency medical plan must address certain topics, including what to do if an employee is observed to have or reports signs or symptoms of heat illness, and how and when to contact emergency medical services. If a supervisor observes or an employee reports signs or symptoms of heat illness, the employee must be relieved from duty and provided with means to reduce body temperature. Such employee must be monitored and offered on-site first aid or provided with access to emergency medical services.
Employers in Oregon should conduct a review of their work sites in light of recent and projected record temperatures in the state to determine whether and how these new rules will apply to their workforce. Since July 2017, Oregon OSHA has had in place a Local Emphasis Program on Preventing Heat Related Illness which prioritized awareness of health risks associated with heat exposure and focused on compliance assistance and employer outreach. Heat exposure is likely to receive continued and increased focus in Oregon. These emergency rules follow similar rules issued in recent years by California OSHA and the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries. In addition, Oregon OSHA intends to continue its existing rulemaking activity on a permanent heat standard. In the meantime, the temporary rule will stay in place.