Pacific Northwest heat wave leads to emergency regulations for employee safety

Pacific Northwest heat wave leads to emergency regulations for employee safety

When the Pacific Northwest turns into Death Valley, it’s time to update employee safety guidelines. That’s exactly what happened last week after record-breaking 110-plus summer temperatures fried Oregon and Washington to a crisp leading state agencies to pass emergency regulations to protect workers from the extreme heat.

Both the Oregon Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries issued emergency rules requiring employers to take precautions to prevent heat-related illness for employees.

Oregon’s emergency rules appear to be temporary while Oregon OSHA hammers out permanent heat safety guidance in the coming months.

Washington state previously established outdoor heat exposure rules in 2008 involving access to drinking water, training and employer responses to heat-related illness. The new Washington state rules are in addition to the existing rules, but it outlines additional steps employers must take to keep workers safe.

The new rules apply to both indoor and outdoor work areas with temperatures over 80 degrees. When the temperature is above 80 degrees, employers must provide shaded areas near the work area, which are open air, ventilated, cooled and provide sufficient means for employees to cool down. When temperature is at or above 90 degrees, an employer must ensure workers have a 10-minute rest in the shade every two hours.

Employers should also provide water that is cool enough to drink safely and provide employees the opportunity to drink at least one quart of water per hour, encouraging employees to frequently consume water and hydrate.

Heat-related training of employees and supervisors should be provided over the next month.

Employers also must maintain an emergency medical plan to address procedures following signs of heat illness and when to contact emergency medical services.

Employees showing signs of heat-related illness must be relieved from duty and provided with a sufficient means to reduce body temperature and access to emergency medical services.

On a federal level, OSHA does not have official standards governing work in hot environments, although it has issued recommended guidelines.

These guidelines outline protective measures based on heat index values and risk levels, particularly for outdoor workers. Beyond OSHA’s guidance, during these hot summer months employers should consider their general duty to protect workers from heat-related hazards in the ‎workplace. As they say, “Safety is no accident.” Stay cool out there!

The information and opinions expressed are for educational purposes only and are based on current practice, industry related knowledge and business expertise. The information provided shall not be construed as legal advice, express or implied.

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