Oregon Adopts New Heat and Wildfire Smoke Rules

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Oregon OSHA recently published two new rules to protect workers from the effects of excessive exposure to heat and wildfire smoke. Both will require certain preparatory actions from employers.

In this article, we’ll summarize the new Oregon OSHA requirements and alert Oregon businesses of the importance of developing a strategy for compliance with the regulations. Noncompliance can expose employees to unnecessary danger and result in fines and/or adverse legal actions.

Components of the new Oregon OSHA rule for heat exposure

The heat rule became effective June 15, 2022. It applies to both indoor and outdoor workplaces and activates when the heat index reaches 80 degrees Fahrenheit or above.

Components of the new rule include the following:

  • Shaded areas must be readily available to outdoor workers exposed to heat
  • Drinking water must be readily available to workers, they must be given the opportunity to drink the water, and it must be free to workers
  • Employees must be gradually given time to adjust to the heat
  • Employers must develop a heat illness protection plan and provide training about the plan to employees and their supervisors
  • When the heat index is 90 degrees Fahrenheit or above a suitable rest/break schedule must be implemented (with employees still on the clock)

NOTE: The heat rule is effective when the heat index reaches the stated levels whether wildfire smoke is present or not.

The wildfire smoke rule became effective July 1, 2022 and applies to work situations where employees are or will be exposed to ambient air concentration for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) at certain Air Quality Index (AQI) values.

Components of the new rule include the following:

  1. When AQI values reach 101 for PM2.5, all exposed employees must be provided with a NIOSH-approved filtering facepiece respirator, but use of the device is voluntary.
  2. AQI values of 101 or greater will trigger additional requirements including air monitoring, employee training, two-way communications, and use of exposure controls.
  3. At AQI values of 251 or above, employees must wear NIOSH-approved filtering facepiece respirators and implement and follow certain rules with regard to the Wildfire Smoke Respiratory Protection Program. Note this respiratory protection program differs from the general OSHA Respiratory Protection Program standard.
  4. At AQI value of 501 or above the standard requires employees wear appropriate NIOSH-approved respirators that protects wearers from PM2.5, along with development and implementation of a written respiratory protection program.

NOTE: Compliance with the wildfire smoke rule can be a bit complicated. Certain exceptions are made and training/monitoring is required. Employers unsure about how to adhere to this new rule can contact FACS at (866) 643-0237 for help with compliance and training.

What should employers do to prepare for compliance with the new Oregon OSHA rules?

One of the most important components of the new Oregon OSHA rules is that they apply to all Oregon employers, both public and private, and without regard to the number of employees. Every Oregon business should be keen to understand the new rules and to be prepared to respond when wildfires occur and environmental conditions reach the stated levels.

Special concerns include how to monitor heat and air quality levels, how to develop and implement a complete respiratory protection program, how to fit test respirators, how to create the required training components, and how to develop an employee protection strategy for heat and smoke that takes the new rules into consideration.

FACS recommends the creation of a comprehensive wildfire response and recovery plan to help both the business and the workers protect themselves against the often harsh conditions experienced when heat and smoke are excessive.

A deeper look at the intricacies of the new Oregon OSHA rules is beyond the scope of this article, but FACS experts are available to help guide employers through the process. For more information call (866) 643-0237.

Whatever you do, don’t wait until conditions require compliance. Getting ready now is the most prudent step you can take for both your employees and your business.