Farmworker Death Related to Heat-Illness Amidst Oregon Heat Wave (original press release via PCUN)
A farm laborer in St. Paul, Oregon dies due to the extreme heat over the weekend of June 26-27. while Oregon OSHA fails to adopt emergency rules ahead of the heatwave.
WOODBURN, Ore.— As people across the state looked for ways to cool down during the record-breaking heatwave, farmworkers continued to work in the fields despite the unsafe conditions. The failure to adopt emergency rules ahead of the heatwave, as well as wildfire season, by Oregon OSHA has left outdoor workers’ health and livelihood at the discretion of their employers. Unfortunately, the lack of rules has resulted in a work-related heat death of a farmworker on Saturday, June 26th on a farm in St. Paul.
Over the past nine months, farmworkers have worked through wildfire smoke, a winter storm, and now, a heatwave. Climate change has had a significant impact on farmworkers who must endure working under extreme weather conditions in order to pay for their living expenses. Workers should not have to decide between their health and a paycheck.
“We’re devastated by the news about a farm laborer in St. Paul’s death due to the extreme heat. This death highlights the need for emergency rules, and for strong standards around excessive heat in our state. We believe that death on the job is avoidable. This is the first recorded death in OSHA’s fatalities report in farm labor due to extreme heat. It’s shameful that it happened as calls for emergency action from PCUN and our partners were met with significant resistance by our state agency. This happened on the watch of these employers as well, our message to them is do better.” said Reyna Lopez, Executive Director of PCUN.
Oregon OSHA, in collaboration with the Oregon Health Authority, was directed under Executive Order 20-04 to create standards to protect workers from workplace exposures to excessive heat and wildfire smoke. The rules were intended to be finalized by the end of June 2021; however, the pandemic delayed these rulemaking processes until the end of September 2021. Labor, climate, and public health advocates have repeatedly urged Oregon OSHA to adopt emergency rules and protect workers ahead of summertime. Up to this point, advocates have not seen or heard of any plans to develop and adopt emergency rules. Further delays will only result in more illness and avoidable deaths.
In addition to the emergency rules, advocates are asking for employers to provide workers with cool, clean water, access to shaded break areas, heat-illness prevention programs, required training, and protections against retaliation. Specifically, with agricultural work, employers need portable pop-up shade structures, have water in coolers, and end the workday when temperatures exceed 90 degrees. The other concern with farmworkers is missing a day of work which affects their ability to pay for rent and other bills. PCUN strongly supports the creation of a ‘disaster pay’ fund for workers who choose to prioritize their health and miss work due to excessive heat or wildfire smoke.
Mandatory rules across outdoor workplaces will help workers and employers respond appropriately to extreme weather conditions and protect health and safety.
PCUN, Oregon’s Farmworker Union, is advocating for emergency rules as well as strong protections for workers exposed to excessive heat and wildfire smoke. Updates on the rulemakin g process can be found on our social media platforms. These efforts are in collaboration with Northwest Workers’ Justice Project, Oregon Environmental Council, Oregon Law Center, Oregon AFL-CIO, and more than 50 other grassroots organizations and labor unions.