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Oregon OSHA adopts emergency rule to address wildfire smoke hazards

Another emergency rule adds heat protections for workers in employer-provided housing.

Oregon OSHA has adopted two emergency rules addressing wildfire smoke and heat dangers in employer-provided housing. The rules take effect Aug. 9 and will remain in effect for 180 days. The two temporary rules follow Oregon OSHA's July 8 adoption of emergency requirements to prevent heat illness in all Oregon workplaces.

Here's what employers should know about both rules:

Wildfire smoke

The rule requires employers to provide workers with training, develop a system to communicate wildfire smoke hazards, and reduce employee exposure to wildfire smoke when it reaches unhealthy or hazardous levels.

The rule applies to employers who have workers exposed to wildfire smoke. It kicks in when the air quality index reaches 101, which is unhealthy for sensitive groups. Sensitive groups include children under 18, pregnant women, adults over 65, and people with lung problems, heart disease, or respiratory problems.

Employers must:

  • Notify employees when the worksite's AQI is at 101 or above
  • Notify employees when the worksite's AQI is at 201 or above, which is very unhealthy air quality, with increased health risks for everyone
  • Notify employees when the AQI is at 500 or above, which is hazardous air quality
  • Notify employees when the AQI drops below levels requiring protective measures
  • Whenever feasible, reduce employee exposure to an AQI of less than 201. Examples of this could include filtering the air in enclosed buildings, relocating work to another location with better air quality, or changing work schedules.
  • Whenever employee exposure exceeds AQI 201, employers must provide and ensure workers wear filtering facepiece respirators approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH). Such respirators include what is commonly known as an N95.
  • For the 2021 season, KN95s can be substituted for NIOSH-approved filtering facepiece respirators for exposures below an AQI of 499. For exposures at AQI 500 and above, NIOSH-approved filtering facepiece respirators must be used.
  • Whenever employee exposure exceeds an AQI of 101, employers must have an adequate supply of NIOSH-approved filtering facepiece respirators to provide at no cost for voluntary use to all exposed workers

Exemptions: Workplaces exempt from the rule are those in enclosed buildings where the air is filtered by a ventilation system, or in an enclosed vehicle with a cabin air filter. Windows and doors must remain closed except when entering and exiting.

Training: Beginning Aug. 16, employers are required to provide training on the following topics:

  • Potential health effects of wildfire smoke, including increased risk of health effects to sensitive groups
  • Symptoms of exposure, including burning eyes; runny nose, sore throat, cough, difficulty breathing, fatigue, headache, and chest pain
  • How employees can get the current and forecasted AQI level
  • How to operate and interpret any air quality monitoring device provided by the employer
  • The employer's methods to protect workers from wildfire smoke
  • Emergency response procedures
  • The employee's right to report health issues and obtain medical treatment without fear of retaliation
  • Two-way communication system for wildfire smoke hazards
  • The importance, limitations, and benefits of using filtering facepiece respirators when provided by the employer, and how to properly put them on

Oregon OSHA has developed an online course to help employers comply with the training requirements of the rule.

Carefully read the full text of the rule here.

Join us for a live webinar
Have questions about the wildfire smoke rule? SAIF industrial hygienist Debra Corbin will host a free webinar for employers at 10 a.m., Aug. 17. Register today!

Heat protections in employer-provided housing

The following requirements for employer-provided housing come in addition to Oregon OSHA's July 8 adoption of emergency requirements to prevent heat illness in all Oregon workplaces.

  • Cooling areas and minimizing heat: When the heat index outside is 80 degrees or above, sleeping quarters must maintain an indoor temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit or less, or employers must take steps, including:
    • Giving occupants continual access to one or more common rooms that are maintained at or below 78 degrees Fahrenheit (using air conditioners, evaporative coolers, air purifiers with coolers, or other reliable means)
    • Giving occupants continual access to outdoor rest areas, away from work areas or activities that could cause a hazard. Rest areas must be shaded; provide water misters, cooling vests, or equally effective means of relief; and provide adequate seating
    • Cooling areas must be large enough to accommodate at least 50% of the occupants at any one time. Employers can use a combination of the two approaches above but are encouraged to provide at least some of the required space indoors
    • Keeping housing cool by ensuring windows are shaded and can be protected from direct sunlight throughout the day
    • Making fans available at no cost for any occupants who want to use them
  • Temperature measurement: Employers must provide a thermometer that displays the temperature in both Fahrenheit and Celsius in each housing unit.
  • Posting: In addition to training for employees and supervisors about the dangers of heat illness, employers must display the "Heat Risks in Housing" poster provided by Oregon OSHA where occupants can see it. The poster is available in both English and Spanish.
  • Access to emergency services: Employers must ensure occupants have access to a working telephone to contact emergency services.

Read the full text of the rule here.