When local residents who aren’t firefighters see summertime haze or clouds on the horizon, they often guess it’s smoke. Mid-summer they often think it’s wildfire smoke, and in the fall they suspect it’s a prescribed burn. This is a “common experience” with wildfire smoke, according to attorneys with Oregon OSHA, who successfully argued last week that it’s fairly easy to determine when the air is smoky and affecting air quality.
On Tuesday, according to the Salem Statesman Journal, a federal magistrate dismissed a lawsuit against Oregon OSHA in which plaintiffs claimed the state agency’s new heat and smoke rules somehow violated the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution and were unenforceable. Lawyers for Oregon Manufacturers and Commerce, Associated Oregon Loggers, and Oregon Forest Industries Council claimed that air quality fluctuations are caused by many factors, and not just wildfire smoke.
“Most times, it’s not obvious,” attorney James Anderson declared. “There’s no method to determine that air quality is due to wildfire smoke, or prescribed burn smoke, or other things that make up particulates.”
Magistrate Mark D. Clarke was not persuaded. “Why is it that complicated?” he asked. He said Oregonians are quite familiar with wildfire smoke. “I’m not sure any of us have any trouble knowing when wildfire smoke rolls in. I’m having trouble with that, factually.”
The lawsuit also claimed that OSHA’s rules to protect workers against extreme heat and smoke were too vague to be enforced. The new rules, as KGW-TV reported last July, took effect after recent heat waves in Oregon resulted in medical problems and deaths, prompting new requirements for employers to protect employees from heat-related illnesses. The new OSHA rules require, when the heat index hits or exceeds 80 °F, that employers provide shaded areas for workers to rest, more break time, and access to plenty of water. When temperatures exceed 90 then breaks must be longer, communication must be more frequent, and workers must be monitored more closely.
Dangerous heat exposure is risky especially for farm workers, according to Ira Cuello Martinez, policy director for Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), Oregon’s farm worker union. “You’re constantly moving and doing repetitive motions, having to bend down, and there aren’t many shaded structures when it comes to the field or doing work in agriculture,” he said.