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National COSH on Tragic Death of Oregon Farmworker from Heat Stress: “Unless we turn knowledge into action, more workers will get sick and die.”

Thursday, July 1, 2021
Press Contacts: 
 Roger Kerson, 734.645.0535; roger@nationalcosh.org
 

National COSH on Tragic Death of Oregon Farmworker

from Heat Stress: “Unless we turn knowledge into action, 

more workers will get sick and die.” 

LOS ANGELES – Leaders of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) and the Northwest Workers Justice Project said today that the death of a farmworker in Oregon from heat stress during a record heat wave shows the need for strong, rigorously-enforced state and federal protections from heat illness.

“Our hearts go out to the family of the farmworker who died last weekend in Oregon,” said Jessica E. Martinez, co-executive director of National COSH. “We know that high temperatures and extreme heat are not going away any time soon. We know how to reduce risks for workers. Unless we turn that knowledge into action -- now -- more workers will get sick and die.”

The farmworker, whose name has not been released, died on June 26 from heat stress while moving irrigation equipment in St. Paul, Oregon.  The local temperature was 104 degrees Fahrenheit. 

More than 800 U.S. workers died and more than 70,000 became ill due to heat stress between 1992 and 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Millions of workers in agriculture, construction, warehouses and other indoor and outdoor settings are at risk of heat stress -- and the risk increases as temperatures continue to rise.  2011 through 2020 was the hottest decade on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization, due to the “relentless pace” of climate change. 

“Simple, common-sense measures -- rest, shade and water -- can reduce the risk of heat-related illness and fatalities,” said Martinez. “Tragically, not all employers provide these necessities, which is why state and federal governments must act right away.” 

“We believe Oregon OSHA is finally taking steps to put emergency rules in place this heat season,” said Kate Suisman, an attorney at the Oregon-based Northwest Workers Justice Project. “But why did another worker have to lose their life in order to see action?”

The U.S Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently published a request for information on heat illness prevention, to “explore the potential for rulemaking.” This is an initial step in what is typically a years-long regulatory process. 

“Workers can’t wait years for life-saving regulations to take effect,” said Martinez. “It’s getting hotter every day and wildfires are burning all across Western states. Public officials must take every possible action -- including use of emergency powers -- to protect workers from heat stress.”

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National COSH links the efforts of local worker health and safety coalitions in communities across the United States, advocating for elimination of preventable hazards in the workplace. For more information, please visit NationalCOSH.org. Follow us at National Council for Occupational Safety and Health on Facebook, and @NationalCOSH on Twitter.