Yesterday, the Oregon Occupational Health and Safety Administration (“OR OSHA”) issued a temporary rule to address employees’ exposure to the hazards posed by temperatures in excess of 80 degrees.
The rule applies whenever employees are required to work in conditions in which the “heat index temperature” (which combines air temperature with relative humidity to measure what the temperature feels like to the human body) reaches 80 degrees or more. Although the rule itself is ambiguous on this point, an OR OSHA media release accompanying the rule clarifies that “[t]he temporary rule applies to any workplace – outdoors and indoors – where heat dangers are caused by the weather.” Presumably, this means that employers that operate in air-conditioned indoor spaces need not comply with the rule simply because the temperature outside exceeds the 80-degree mark.
The rule imposes two basic requirements when the heat index temperature reaches 80 degrees. First, employers must provide employees with access to shaded areas that are ventilated either naturally (e.g., an open-air tent) or mechanically (e.g., via a fan or air-conditioning unit), that are as close as practical to the worksite, and that are large enough to allow employees to sit. The shaded area also must be large enough to accommodate employee meal periods.
Second, employers must provide readily accessible, potable drinking water (or certain kinds of sports drinks) that is 77 degrees or colder and in sufficient amounts to allow each employee to consume 32 ounces of water per hour, as well as the opportunity for employees to drink that 32 ounces of water each hour. In addition, beginning on August 1, 2021, employers that “reasonably anticipate” that employees will be exposed to heat index temperatures of 80 degrees or more must provide (and document) training to their supervisors and their employees on a variety of subjects related to working in the heat, including for example the personal risk factors for heat-related illness.
Employers must implement additional safety requirements during “high heat” periods, which exist when the heat index reaches 90 degrees. During these periods, employers must maintain effective voice communication with employees (whether in person or via an electronic device like a mobile phone), must monitor employees for signs of heat-related illness, must designate at least one employee per worksite to call for emergency services as necessary, and must ensure that employees take a minimum ten-minute cool-down rest period in the shade at least every two hours. (These cool-down periods can be combined with generally required meal and rest periods.) In addition, employers must develop and implement emergency medical plans that outline the steps they will take to provide care to employees who exhibit signs of heat-related illnesses. Finally, employers must develop “acclimatization practices,” which in broad terms refers to the process by which employees temporarily adapt to working in high temperatures.
If you have questions about the new rule please feel free to reach out to one of our attorneys.