Oregon Adopts New Protections for Workers Exposed to Extreme Heat and Wildfire Smoke

Published May 11, 2022

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) commends Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration for adopting rules to protect workers from the climate impacts of extreme heat and wildfire smoke that threaten their health and livelihoods.

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The Oregon standards—applying to people who work in settings ranging from agriculture and forestry to construction and warehouses—are among the strongest in the nation. Previously, California and Washington were the only other states to set enforceable heat-related standards to protect outdoor workers. Now, however, the rules in these three Western states provide strong models for federal heat and smoke safety rules now under consideration.

“These commonsense, science-informed measures will help to protect workers who often face the difficult choice of risking their health by enduring exposure to extreme heat or risking their jobs by staying home,” said Kristina Dahl, UCS principal climate scientist. “Workers should not have to choose between their health and their paycheck, especially given that what they need to stay safe—water, shade, and increasing amounts of rest as temperatures rise—is simple.”

Tens of millions of outdoor workers in the United States face severe risks from extreme heat that will increase as climate change makes dangerously hot days more frequent and intense, according to the UCS Too Hot to Work report. The report showed that in Oregon, by mid-century, lost work time due to extreme heat could put as much as $27.6 million in outdoor workers’ earnings at risk annually.

Oregon’s adoption of these rules comes as the state is approaching heat and wildfire season, which turned deadly in June 2021 when a worker died on a farm near Salem and another worker collapsed at a Hillsboro construction site, and later died, during an historic Pacific Northwest heatwave.

“These rules will save lives by ensuring that employers provide workers with sufficient rest, shade and drinking water on days when the heat index equals or exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Rachel Licker, UCS principal climate scientist. “While there are aspects of these rules that could be even stronger, we are encouraged that Oregon followed the science and listened to workers themselves in developing these protective measures.”

The rules, which build on temporary emergency rules adopted last summer, are part of Oregon’s ongoing efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change.