Workers win stronger protections from heat and smoke just in time for summer!

Hot weather is here, and here is what you need to know! New rules in Oregon are now in effect to protect workers, including the right to more breaks, water, and shade!

Know your rights! Go here for information:

After a year and a half of rulemaking, collaboration, and advocacy by workers and environmental, health, small business, and labor activists, the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) adopted and published permanent rules to protect Oregon’s frontline workers from the increasingly frequent and extreme conditions being driven by climate change today. 

They are the strongest of their kind in the nation! Let’s break it down:

The Good:

Access to shade, cool drinking water, and increased paid breaks at 80F and 90F. 

Additional high heat protections at 90F, which include a buddy system, increased communication between employers, supervisors, and employees, and a requirement for employers to measure heat and humidity levels in indoor structures.

Employers must provide annual training, an acclimatization plan, heat illness prevention plan, and emergency medical plan. 

Employers to provide emergency N95 respirators for voluntary use at 101 AQI (“unhealthy for sensitive groups.”)

Feasible administrative or engineering controls be implemented at the workplace to reduce the level of smoke to below 101 AQI (“unhealthy for sensitive groups.”) (e.g. changing work locations, using HVAC system to filter smoke.) 

Mandatory respirator use at 251 AQI. A complete respiratory protection program is required at 500 AQI (“hazardous”)

The Bad:

The tiered rest/work schedules in high heat are confusing, hard to implement, and give employers too much discretion on when workers can rest. The rules provide three charts / choices which could potentially lead to difficulty in enforcement, and to workers knowing their rights.

The weakest of the tiered rest/work schedules does not consider whether a worker is exposed to direct sun.  

The heat protections in labor housing remain incomplete, and OR OSHA plans to fully address these protections in another separate rulemaking.

How workers voices made the difference:

Dozens of people provided testimony and hundreds of public comments were delivered asking OSHA to protect people from climate change. See the joint press release here.

Climate Jobs/Jobs with Justice helped broaden the scope, helped organize unions to weigh in during OSHA’s rulemaking process. Many union leaders signed on to extensive letters directed to OSHA from the stakeholder coalition detailing workers needs, what needed to be changed in the various OSHA drafts. 

Bus drivers in the ATU, warehouse workers in the Teamsters, hazardous waste facility workers in AFSCME, cooks in Doughnut Workers United, Letter Carriers, workers from IATSE, and more testified to OSHA before and during the public comment period. This testimony from workers was absolutely critical in getting improvements in the draft rules. A number of workers also submitted letters to the editor of Portland and Salem newspapers and a number were published.

These final rules were truly a team effort between JWJ, JWJ’s Climate Jobs and partners PCUN, Northwest Workers Justice Project, Oregon Environmental Council, Main Street Alliance, Oregon Law Center, Oregon AFL-CIO, and all of the workers who weighed in!

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