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September 01, 2021
Oregon issues emergency smoke, heat rules

The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) adopted two new emergency rules, one putting protections in place against the hazards of wildfire smoke and another establishing safeguards against high heat in employer-provided housing. Oregon adopted another emergency rule earlier this summer on the prevention of heat illness in outdoor and indoor workplaces.

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Oregon OSHA also is developing a permanent wildfire smoke standard the agency expects to adopt this fall. There are no federal heat illness prevention or wildfire smoke standards. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) issued recommendations for a heat stress standard in 1972, 1986, and 2016.

“These rules underscore our ongoing work to bolster Oregon’s ability to protect workers from extraordinary hazards that have been exacerbated by climate change,” Andrew Stolfi, director of the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services, said in a statement.

“Wildfire smoke and extreme heat continue to pose threats to our communities,” Stolfi continued. “Those threats are not going away. And that is why we must act.”

Key requirements of the emergency wildfire smoke rule include employee training, smoke hazard communication, and exposure controls.

Exposure controls include engineering controls such as air filtration in enclosed structures and vehicles to reduce particulate matter (PM) exposures and administrative controls like relocating work or scheduling work when PM levels are lower.

Employers must allow the voluntary use of NIOSH-approved respirators or foreign-made respirators when employees are exposed to PM2.5 at or above 35.5 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) (an EPA Air Quality Index (AQI) of 101).

Employers must ensure their employees wear NIOSH-approved filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs) or KN-95 FFRs (which are not tested and approved by NIOSH) when PM2.5 levels are at or above 150.5 µg/m3 (AQI 201).

When wildfire smoke exposure reaches PM2.5 levels at or above 500.4 µg/m3 (AQI 501), even after the use of engineering and administrative controls, employers must ensure their employees wear only NIOSH-approved respirators.

Employee training must cover the symptoms of wildfire smoke exposure and potential health effects, procedures that supervisors must follow if an employee exhibits severe symptoms of wildfire smoke exposure, how to obtain current and forecasted PM2.5 and equivalent AQI levels, how to operate air quality-monitoring devices, the employer’s system for communicating wildfire smoke hazards, methods of protection from wildfire smoke, and the benefits of an FFR and how to put one on.

To help employers fulfill their new obligations under the emergency wildfire smoke rule, Oregon OSHA is working with private sector partners and state agricultural extension offices to distribute respirators.

The protection from wildfire smoke standard applies to employers whose employees are or will be exposed to PM in wildfire smoke, but it does not apply to:

  • Enclosed buildings and structures in which the air is filtered by a mechanical ventilation system, but bays, doors, windows, and other exterior openings must remain closed, except to open doors to enter or exit;
  • Enclosed vehicles in which the air is filtered by a cabin air filter and doors, windows, and other openings remain closed, except to open doors to enter and exit; however, buses, light rail, and other transit system vehicles are not exempt from the emergency rule, as doors frequently are opened for boarding and alighting passengers; and
  • Intermittent exposure of less than 15 minutes in any hour or short-duration exposure of less than 2 hours in a single 24 hours.

Requirements of the employer-provided housing heat rule include minimizing heat in housing units with artificial or natural shade to ensure windows are protected from direct sunlight, providing cooling areas when the heat index outside the housing is at or above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, providing fans at no cost to occupants, providing a thermometer in each housing unit that displays the temperature in both Fahrenheit and Celsius, and posting Oregon OSHA’s “Heat Risks in Housing” poster, available in both English and Spanish.

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