Oregon heat deaths now 116; new worker rules coming

Oregon

New heat-related worker rules to be announced soon

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The number of deaths in Oregon connected to the record-shattering late June heat wave continued to climb on Wednesday to 116.

In Multnomah County, the county with the highest number of heat wave-related deaths, the death toll rose to 72, according to data released by Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office; on Tuesday, the medical examiner’s office data showed there had been 67 heat wave-related deaths.

Due to a heat dome over the Pacific Northwest, high temperatures in the triple digits shattered multiple records from Saturday, June 26 through Monday, June 28, resulting in the highest temperature ever recorded in Portland: 116 degrees Fahrenheit.

Clackamas County announced one more possible heat wave-related death; the death toll for the county now stands at 12. Linn and Columbia counties also reported one more heat wave-related death each, with the counties’ toll now standing at three and two deaths, respectively.

Union County also announced its first heat wave-related death on Wednesday.

Emergency rules ordered

Though there weren’t rules to protect farmworkers in the extreme heat, there were guidelines. But that’s not the same.

The changes now are coming after the death of Sebastian Francisco Perez, a Guatemalan immigrant who died in a farm field in St. Paul.

Friends and family hold signs to honor Sebastian Francisco Perez, who died June 26, 2021 during a record-shattering heat wave in Oregon (KOIN)

The emergency rules will mandate there to be shade, like tents, if needed along with cold water and more breaks. More than 80,000 people work in Oregon farm fields, harvesting by hand fruits and vegetables.

Reyna Lopez, the executive director of PCUN, the Oregon Farmworkers Union, said there needs to be enforcement of the new rules.

“That’s another thing we are worried about that, there is going to be amazing standards we put in place but we are not doing what is necessary to create a culture of compliance and to make sure those businesses that are cutting corners are no longer able to do that,” Lopez said.

“I think everyone’s just deeply, very shaken by what took place and does not want to see any more harm moving forward,” said Samantha Bayer with the Oregon Farm Bureau. “I think what we saw happened is absolutely not the norm and it’s not what any single business owner wants to have happen again.”

On June 24, two days before the extreme heat, Oregon OSHA released a statement asking employers to focus on heat safety along with a 6-page heat illness prevention plan.

“A lot of our farmers are already taking precautions,” Bayer said. “Federal OSHA has best practices documents, and we’ve put out best practice documents that mirrors what Oregon OSHA has put out. But at this exact moment as of Wednesday, July 7, there are no specific rules in place.”

Sebastian Francisco Perez, 38, died while working during record-shattering heat on June 26, 2021 at Ernst Nursery and Farms in St. Paul, Oregon (KOIN/GoFundMe)

Bayer said farmers want that to change and have been working on getting permanent rules in place.

“We are a part of a rulemaking advisory committee that’s been meeting for months now to put forth permanent heat and wildfire smoke rules,” she told KOIN 6 News.

But Bayer believes farmers are doing their best to prevent another heat-related tragedy.

“You already have to supply water, potable water must be readily available,” she said. “And a lot of our farmers are already allowing people to take as many breaks as they want and a lot of our members are letting people leave whenever they want to.”

The state is working with many groups on not just heat but wildfire smoke protections for workers. But those rules won’t be in place until the fall.

On Thursday, OSHA is expected to release the heat emergency rules ordered by Gov. Kate Brown, designed to prevent more heat-related deaths this summer.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Twitter News Widget

Trending Stories