Summer Heat, OR OSHA’s Heat and Smoke Rules, and the Right to Refuse Dangerous Work

A farmworker carries berries in a field

Photo credit: Tim Mossholder

Summer heat is here, and the impact of climate change on summer weather patterns is undeniable. This past July was the hottest month on record globally. Across the U.S., major cities are seeing dangerous heat domes, like Phoenix which had over 31 days consistently over 110F, while Maui is reeling from catastrophic wildfires. Oregonians–already too familiar with extreme heat and wildfire risk–have experienced disruptions in our climate and weather patterns both locally and statewide (including an unusually early heat wave this Summer). 

As climate-fueled extreme heat escalates, it is critical to ensure the health and safety of Oregon’s workers who are often on the frontlines. In 2022, Oregon Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OR OSHA) finalized rules to address the health threat that heat and smoke pose for workers in the Pacific Northwest, a vital step to protect workers from exposure to extreme heat and wildfire smoke.

These current heat and smoke rules are fully enforceable by OR OSHA.

Heat Rules

  • At 80 degrees, employers must provide employees with cool water, shaded break areas, and heat prevention training.
  • At 90+ degrees, employers must have a 2-way communication system in place, monitor for signs of heat illness and provide for additional paid rest breaks as the temperature increases.
  • Employers must also have an emergency medical plan and an acclimatization plan.

Smoke Rules

101 – 250 Air Quality Index. Employers must: 

  • Monitor air quality at each work location where employees are exposed to smoke;
  • Provide and document employee training on their rights and responsibility to use a respirator, etc.;
  • Implement two-way communication system;
  • Implement engineering and administrative controls to lower AQI to under 101;
  • Provide NIOSH-approved filtering respirators for voluntary use.

251 – 500 Air Quality Index

  • All of the above; and provide NIOSH-approved filtering facepiece respirators for mandatory use by implementing a Wildfire Smoke Respiratory Protection Program.

501+ Air Quality Index

  • All of the above; and provide NIOSH-approved respirators for mandatory use by implementing a Respiratory Protection Program. 

But what happens when conditions are so extreme that the current heat and smoke rules are not enough? 

In the 2023 legislative session, OEC and our partners worked to pass SB 907, the Right to Refuse Dangerous Work as a continuation of our heat and smoke protection work. With the support of labor, environmental, and business industry groups, the law directs OR OSHA to commence rulemaking to align with the existing federal right to refuse dangerous work and clarify/re-write Oregon’s confusing language. 

SB 907 makes it an act of discrimination to retaliate against, fire, or refuse to hire a worker who, in good faith, refused to work in hazardous conditions that would have reasonably resulted in serious injury or death. This can range from refusing to use a malfunctioning machine, to being asked to work without respirator protection during a wildfire or being asked to work in the middle of a natural or climate disaster.

The path forward

Oregon OSHA commenced rulemaking in June. OEC and our partners have joined the rulemaking advisory committee. Rest assured that we will continue to advocate for the most commonsense and health-protective rules. 

Make sure you’re signed up to receive OEC’s Grassroots Action Information Network (GAIN) action alerts. We’ll share updates and ways for you to make your voice heard on this critical health issue.  


OEC’s work to advance public health is made possible by individual supporters across the state. Make a difference. Become a member of OEC today.  

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