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Oregon OSHA considers new rules for wildfire smoke, heat exposure

State officials are considering a pair of workplace protection rules intended to reduce employee exposure to two conditions common in Southern Oregon summers: extreme heat and unhealthy air from wildfire smoke.

Oregon OSHA will hold a series of online hearings in late February to hear public comments on proposed new rules for preventing heat illness on the job, and online hearings in early March for comments on new rules to protect workers from smoke-related poor air quality.

They hope to adopt the rules ahead of the growing and wildfire seasons by April, according to a press release issued by the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services.

The proposed wildfire smoke regulations would include a requirement for employers to provide N95 respirators when the local Air Quality Index goes above 101, considered “unhealthy for sensitive groups.”

Employees in indoor workplaces with filtered climate control systems would be exempt.

If the AQI goes above 251 — considered “very unhealthy” — the proposed regulations would require employees wear NIOSH-approved filtering facepiece respirators.

Any AQI above 301 is considered “hazardous.”

In environments where smoke levels are at or above AQI 501, Oregon OSHA would require a complete respiratory protection program. That would include training on filtered faceplate respirators and regular seal checks on the respirator to ensure that the protective equipment is working properly.

The proposed heat illness rule would apply to any work environment — indoors or out — where workers are exposed to 80-degree temperatures for longer than 15 minutes an hour.

Workplaces would be required to provide shade that is “immediately and readily available to employees,” adequate supplies of cool drinking water and regular training on preventing heat illness in a language the workers understand.

When heat exceeds 90 degrees, the workplace would be required to implement added protections such as revised work/rest schedules.

Oregon OSHA's public hearings on the proposed heat related illness regulations are scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 23 and 10 a.m. Feb. 25. A Spanish language public comment webinar is scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 24.

Public comment hearings on the proposed employee exposure to wildfire smoke regulations are at 6 p.m. March 2 and 10 a.m. March 4. A Spanish language public hearing will be at 6 p.m. March 3.

Find links for the webinar by visiting osha.oregon.gov/rules and clicking “Proposed Rules” or “Hearings Calendar.”

Comments can also be submitted before March 18 by emailing OSHA.rulemaking@dcbs.oregon.gov, leaving a voice message at 1-833-604-0884, sending a fax to 503-947-7461 or writing to Department of Consumer and Business Services/Oregon OSHA, P.O. Box 14480, Salem, OR 97309.