Business groups sue to protect workers from heat and smoke

Some Oregon business groups are suing the state’s new rules on construction sites requiring employers to take steps to protect workers from extreme heat and smoke from wildfires.

Regulations passed by Oregon’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health require employers to take action once the temperature or air quality reaches a certain threshold. The heat rules came into effect on June 15, while the wildfire smoke rules begin on July 1.

Oregon Manufacturers and Commerce, Associated Oregon Loggers Inc. and the Oregon Forest & Industries Council are seeking an injunction to stop the state from enforcing the rules, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. Together, the groups represent more than 1,000 Oregon businesses and 50 forest land owners.

They filed a lawsuit in US District Court in Medford last week.

The groups allege that several provisions are too vague to be applied fairly and that the state’s workplace safety agency exceeded its statutory authority in adopting them.

The groups also argue that the wildfire smoke rules do not give employers a method to determine what percentage of pollutants in the air at a job site is caused by wildfire smoke versus other factors. , which the groups say prevents employers from knowing when the rules come into effect.

They further claim that requiring employers to pay workers during heat-related disease prevention breaks is beyond the authority of the state.

Shaun Jillions, executive director of Oregon Manufacturers and Commerce, said the state needs to work with employers to craft new rules that will protect workers and businesses.

A spokesperson for Oregon OSHA did not immediately respond to a request from the newspaper for comment.

Worker advocates, who for years have lobbied for the protections, have praised the new rules.

Heat rules require employers to provide shaded areas, water and breaks. They also require employers to develop heat prevention plans and protect workers from heat in farm labor housing, among other measures.

Wildfire smoke rules state that employers must provide training on the dangers of smoke, make respirators available when air quality reaches unhealthy levels, or require workers to wear respirators if Air quality levels exceed the “very unhealthy” levels of the Air Quality Index.

The federal government does not have similar rules, although it is developing heat regulations. Several states have adopted their own heat standards, including Washington and California.

Oregon passed temporary emergency rules to protect workers from extreme heat and smoke from wildfires last year after workers across the state were exposed to harsh conditions during a unprecedented heat in June 2021 and wildfires in September 2020.

At least two workers have died of heat-related illnesses after working in scorching heat last year. They were among nearly 100 people who died in Oregon during last year’s heat wave as temperatures hit a record 116 degrees Fahrenheit (46.7 C) in Portland.

Governor Kate Brown has asked Oregon OSHA and the Oregon Health Authority to develop standards to protect employees from excessive heat and wildfire smoke in 2020 as part of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to mitigate the effects of climate change.

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