US: Farmworker advocates renew call for extreme heat rules after Oregon laborer dies

Farmworker advocates are calling on Oregon to adopt emergency rules to protect workers during extreme heat following the death of a Marion County farmworker a week ago.
The male farmworker, who has not been identified, was found unresponsive in the field at the end of his shift at Ernst Nursery and Farms in St. Paul, according to the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health division. He had been working on a crew moving irrigation lines, the agency said. Temperatures reached 104 degrees in St. Paul on Saturday as Oregon entered an unprecedented three-day heat wave that led to record temperatures across the state.
The death occurs as Oregon is considering new rules to protect workers from extreme heat and wildfire smoke. The state was originally expected to submit a proposal for those new rules this month, but that deadline was pushed back to September due to the pandemic. Activists have been pushing the state to adopt a temporary emergency rule in the interim, but no such rule was in place over the weekend.
“These kinds of deaths on the job are avoidable,” said Reyna Lopez, executive director for PCUN, Oregon’s largest farmworkers union. “We raised the alarm. Last week, we asked OSHA to put in an emergency rule knowing that the conditions were just going to get hotter and hotter, but we were met with a lot of resistance from the agency. It’s shameful this happened.”
Employers are required to provide employees with water, shade and the option to take frequent breaks as temperatures rise. They are also required to train managers and staff about heat hazards. Many of the specifics, though, are left to the employer’s judgement.

Advocates say the state needs rules that mandate that employers take specific actions when temperatures reach certain thresholds, including providing cold and sanitary water within 400 feet of a worksite, setting up cooling areas with shade and chairs, suspending output quotas that could compel workers to work faster in extreme heat and ensuring that employees who choose not to work aren’t penalized.

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