Heatwave Results in 14 Suspected Deaths; 1 in Umatilla County

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By Lynne Terry and Alex Baumhardt

The weeklong heatwave in Oregon ended on Monday with 14 suspected deaths and dozens of complaints about companies not following new rules to protect workers from the heat.

The state medical examiner tracked 14 deaths that may be heat-related: seven in Multnomah County, four in Marion County, two in Clackamas County and one in Umatilla County. That’s at least person died each day between Monday and Saturday, a release said.

The examiner’s office declined to provide ages or other information about the fatalities. It said the exact cause of death likely will take two months to determine. Last summer, when temperatures reached 116 degrees in Portland in June, nearly 100 people died from excessive heat. Salem was even hotter last year, spiking at 117 degrees.

Last week temperatures soared to 102 degrees in Portland and Eugene and reached 103 degrees in Salem. The heatwave extended for eight days, with highs of 90 or more on eight days, said Lisa Kriederman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. That compares with a five-day streak last June, she said.

New heat rules went into effect this year to prevent hundreds of thousands of farmworkers, construction workers, utility workers and others who work outside from getting heat stroke or heat exhaustion.

Aaron Corvin, spokesman for the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division which regulates workplaces, said more than 60 heat-related complaints were filed, with more than half of those on Monday and Tuesday last week. The division launched about 130 inspections of job sites and has at least nine open inspections involving citations related to the heat, Corvin said.

“We anticipate there will be more,” Corvin said in an email. “We also have other heat inspections in progress.” He said the citations were pending and did not release them.

OSHA can fine companies that violate rules a maximum of $13,653 per incident.  The maximum penalty for willful or repeated violations is $136,532.

Corvin said one complaint prompted an inspection last Thursday of a Fred Meyer warehouse in Clackamas. In Portland, Oregon OSHA is still investigating at least three heat complaints.

“They include food carts and restaurants,” Corvin said.

He said officials are investigating an agricultural worksite in Hermiston following a heat-related incident involving a worker who developed heat stress symptoms, Corvin said. That person, who received medical help, filed the complaint, Corvin said. He did not provide more details.

For the complete story, see the Oregon Capital Chronicle.

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