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July 15, 2021
Oregon OSHA ordered to develop heat stress ETS

Oregon Governor Kate Brown directed the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health (Oregon OSHA) division of the Department of Consumer & Business Services to develop rules for an emergency temporary standard (ETS) to ensure worker protection from extreme heat.  

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“I am concerned that our recent record-breaking heat wave in the Willamette Valley is a harbinger of what’s to come,” Brown said in a statement. The Willamette Valley is home to Salem, Oregon’s capital, and five of the state’s most populous cities: Portland, Beaverton, Eugene, Gresham, and Hillsboro.

“Even with the immense resources directed to preparing communities for the excessive heat, it is critical that we need to be better prepared, flexible, and resilient,” Brown continued.

On June 24, Oregon OSHA reminded employers and workers to take precautions when temperatures and humidity rise during the summer. An agency advisory committee has been working on permanent excessive heat rule-making and released an updated draft rule on May 26, followed by stakeholders’ comments on June 23. The permanent rule draft contains provisions for a written heat illness prevention plan, acclimatization, access to shade and water, emergency response procedures, high-heat precautions, and employee and supervisor training.

According to the governor’s office, the ETS is expected to include requirements for employers to provide shade, rest time, and cool water for workers during high- and extreme-heat events, while Oregon OSHA completes the permanent rule-making expected to be adopted this fall.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) on July 7 issued its fifth reminder this year to employers about excessive heat, the potential for heat illness, and the state’s heat illness prevention standard after excessive heat warnings and watches were issued throughout the state, including a forecast in the triple digits. Cal/OSHA’s heat illness prevention standard is one of the few established state workplace heat illness prevention or heat stress standards in the country, and applies to all outdoor worksites.

To prevent heat illness, the state standard requires California employers to provide outdoor workers with fresh drinking water, access to shade when temperatures reach 80°F, and cool-down rest breaks in addition to regular scheduled breaks whenever requested by a worker. The standard also requires an effective written heat illness prevention plan with training on the signs of heat illness and what to do in case of a heat-related emergency.

There is no federal heat standard, but the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) published criteria for a recommended standard for occupational heat stress and hot work environments in 2016. NIOSH recommended that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) establish a standard that would include requirements for medical monitoring, surveillance of adverse health conditions brought on by excessive heat, emergency medical care, engineering controls, and workplace hygienic practices, along with information, training, and recordkeeping.

Like California, Washington state also has an outdoor heat exposure standard, and Minnesota has a standard for both hot and cold workplace conditions.

OSHA currently cites employers for heat illness under the general duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. The Occupational Safety and Health and Review Commission has criticized OSHA’s use of the general duty clause in cases of illness. Commissioners characterized the use of the general duty clause as a “gotcha” that lacks the clear employer guidance a federal standard would provide.

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