The entire Pacific Northwest region has suffered through a recent period of unprecedentedly high temperatures, even for summer. In response, the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Oregon-OSHA) has adopted emergency heat safety rules that apply whenever employees must work when the heat index is 80 degrees or more.
What Is Heat Index?
The heat index is calculated using both temperature and humidity to create a “feels like” temperature. The rules require designated shade areas, access to drinking water, and training. When the heat index is 90 degrees or more, employers must also monitor workers for signs of heat illness, ensure they can contact a supervisor if needed, designate a worker on-site to contact emergency services, and require them to take a 10-minute cool-down break every two hours.
The rule doesn’t apply when heat is generated from work processes (e.g., the excessive heat is the result of steel mill operations). Other rules may cover such work. The rules also exclude work time spent in vehicles and when employees aren’t required to work more than 15 minutes in an hour with a heat index of 80 degrees or more.
Heat Index Of 80 Degrees or More
Employers with work activities covered by the emergency rule must establish and maintain a shade area whenever the heat index is 80 degrees or above. The shade area must be (1) open air or have mechanical cooling, (2) able to accommodate all employees who are on their rest and meal periods, and (3) as close as practical to where employees are working. If you can show access to shade isn’t safe or feasible, you can implement alternative cooling measures.
Employees must be provided cold or cool (35-77 degrees Fahrenheit) drinking water at no cost and must have time to drink it. You must supply each employee with enough water to be able to consume 32 ounces per hour. The water may be supplied throughout the day and need not all be available at the start of work.
Beginning August 1, 2021, supervisors and employees must receive training on heat risks. This includes the risk factors for heat illness, the procedures for complying with the new regulation including providing water, daily heat index information, shade and cool-down rests, how to report symptoms of heat-related illness, and where to access first-aid.
Workers must receive training on the methods of acclimatizing to heat, the effects of nonwork factors such as weight, medications, or alcohol on heat tolerance, and the different types and signs of heat illness. They also must be reminded of their ability to exercise their rights under the new standard without fear of retaliation.
Heat Index of 90 Degrees or More
When the heat index is 90 degrees or more, you must maintain effective communication by voice observation or electronic means so employees can contact a supervisor when necessary. You must observe employees for alertness and signs and symptoms of heat illness. You also will be required to designate an employee at each worksite as someone to call for emergency medical services.
You must make sure every employee takes a minimum 10-minute preventive cool-down rest period in the shade every two hours. The rest period can be concurrent with the rest periods required under wage and hour law.
You also must develop and implement an emergency medical plan in compliance with the Oregon-OSHA regulations. The plan must have procedures for responding to signs and symptoms of heat illness, reporting symptoms of heat illness, and engaging in emergency response procedures. It must provide that employees who exhibit signs of heat illness shouldn’t be left alone or sent home without first being offered on-site first-aid or emergency medical services.
Oregon’s historic heat wave has generated significant concerns. The emergency regulation is another offshoot of the concerns. You can expect Oregon-OSHA will start with education and assist in implementing the regulation but move to enforcement if employers are noncompliant. The agency had already been in the process of drafting permanent heat regulations to deal with the new environmental reality as well as new environmental smoke hazard regulations.
Calvin Keith is a partner with the law firm of Perkins Coie LLP in Portland, Oregon, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.