(The Center Square) – Within the week, Oregon will have new labor rules about working outdoors in extreme heat, Gov. Kate Brown has ordered.
Brown's office announced the temporary rules are intended to expand employers' obligation to provide shade, rest time and water to workers during extreme heat events. They will follow the death of a migrant worker from Guatemala in the Willamette Valley from extreme heat in St. Paul and hundreds of heat-related deaths across the Pacific Northwest.
Brown issued the order on Tuesday directing the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) to write and enact the emergency rules within the week.
"No one should have to decide between their health and a paycheck," Brown said in a statement. "All Oregonians should be able to go to work knowing that conditions will be safe and that they will return home to their families at the end of the day."
Oregon OSHA will continue working on permanent rules regarding worker safety from heat and extreme weather, which are expected to be adopted later this fall. Under an executive order of Brown's in 2020, Oregon OSHA had been working to adopt permanent rules related to heat. Its deadline to submit those rules to the governor was rescheduled from July to September due to the pandemic.
On Wednesday, the governor further ordered state agencies to curb nonessential water use and enact water conservation measures. The order temporarily places a moratorium on public landscaping projects like window washing and lawn care. State employees are also encouraged to cut back on their water usage in public buildings.
Nineteen out of 36 Oregon counties are under declared drought emergencies as half the state experiences severe to extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
The news comes as the death toll from heat-related illness rose to 107 on Tuesday, according to the state medical examiner's office. That brings the death toll in Multnomah County to 67 people, Marion's to 13 people and Clackamas to 11 people. All other counties reported fewer than ten deaths.
Temperatures in the Willamette Valley are forecast at 90 degrees Fahrenheit for the rest of the week. East of the Cascades, forecasts reached triple-digits in Malheur and Baker Counties. In Jackson and Klamath Counties to the south, weather in the mid-90s is in the forecast.
Under the Oregon Health Plan, Medicaid members with underlying conditions are eligible to receive free air conditioners. Medicaid members can contact their Coordinated Care Organization to see if they qualify for this assistance.
Wildfires in Oregon continue to spur executive actions from the governor. Brown invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act for a fourth time on Wednesday in response to the Bootleg Fire in Klamath County that began on Tuesday. The 3,000-acre fire north of Sprague River has spurred Level 1 "Get Ready" and Level 2 "Get Set" evacuations.
Brown last invoked the act on Tuesday in response to the Jack Fire that broke out in Douglas County on Monday evening. The 900-acre fire is burning outside the town of Dry Creek and has forced the closure of Highway 138. The Douglas County Sheriff's Office issued level 3 "Go Now" evacuation orders on Tuesday.
The state fire marshal took control of the Jack Fire operation on Tuesday night and sent personnel, a communications unit and a supply trailer loaded with tools and COVID-19 personal protection equipment. Vaccinations are not required for Oregon firefighters as a condition of employment.
Brown first invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act this year in response to the Wrentham Market Fire in Wasco County, which has been contained. A 987-acre Sunset Valley Fire near The Dalles in Western Oregon also saw Brown invoke the act. It is now 85% contained.