Oregon issues rules to protect workers as heat wave death toll continues to rise

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Hundreds of people sought refuge at a cooling center at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland on June 28, 2021. The cooling center provided water, snacks, meals, blankets and beds or rugs for sleeping.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

As state officials report more than 100 heat wave deaths across the region last week, Gov. Kate Brown has announced she is asking state officials for occupational health and safety (OSHA) to adopt temporary rules to protect workers from future episodes of extreme heat.

The record-breaking heat that blanketed much of the Pacific Northwest late last month is responsible for 107 deaths in Oregon, a figure that will almost certainly increase, according to new figures from the Medical Examiner’s Office. State.

This led to an announcement Tuesday from the governor’s office that OSHA will be implementing new rules to expand requirements for employers to provide shade, rest and cool water to workers during high temperatures.

According to a press release, the state will continue to work to adopt permanent rules protecting the safety of workers during extreme weather events. The permanent rules are expected to be adopted this fall.

“I am concerned that our recent record heat wave in the Willamette Valley is a harbinger of what is to come,” Governor Brown said in a statement. “All Oregonians should be able to go to work knowing that conditions will be safe and that they will be returning home to their families at the end of the day. As Oregon OSHA strived to adopt permanent heat-related rules, it became evident that immediate action was needed to protect Oregonians, especially those whose work is essential to the operation of the Oregon and must often continue during extreme weather conditions.

Multnomah County alone has now reported 67 deaths that health officials believe were due to excessive heat or the condition known as hyperthermia.

Portland experienced a high temperature of 116 degrees during the four-day heat wave.

County officials called it “an unprecedented event with many casualties.”

But they also recognize that it could be months before a full calculation of the death toll is complete. Death investigations can be complicated, especially in cases where the deceased had underlying medical conditions that may have been exacerbated by high temperatures.

Multnomah County President Deborah Kafoury has asked staff to review the work they have done to protect residents during the heat wave and to make recommendations on future responses to be included.

Multnomah County leaders are calling on state and federal authorities to help prevent future climate change-related disasters, among others, by establishing a national renewable energy standard as a way to reduce carbon emissions and invest in renewable and more efficient and weather-resistant energy projects. low-income housing.

The majority of heat-related deaths recorded so far have been in people who did not have access to air conditioning or fans.

In Marion County, where the temperature has reached 117 in some places, 13 heat-related deaths have been reported.

The medical examiner also reported deaths in Clackamas, Deschutes, Linn, Polk, Umatilla and Washington counties.

Scientists say that such an intense heat wave in the Pacific Northwest is extremely rare. But this is consistent with the effects of man-made climate change.

In response to temperatures well above 110 degrees last week, Governor Brown asked state agencies to conduct an after-action review to determine how the state can improve its response and results.

The governor will also meet with agency directors, local leaders and statewide Medicaid partners in affected communities in the coming weeks. The governor’s office says the meetings are meant to gather recommendations, ensure immediate action is taken to prepare for the next heat wave, and discuss how best to prepare to protect the health of low-income Oregonians. as the state anticipates other extreme weather events in the near future.

The state is also working to remind Oregon residents that Medicaid members may be eligible to receive air conditioners if they have an underlying qualifying condition. This is part of the health related services that are offered by Oregon CCOs. Medicaid members should contact their CCO to see if they are eligible for this assistance.


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