During a record-breaking heat wave in late June in Oregon
, a diner at a Red Robin burger joint sent an urgent message to the state's OSHA
office: every worker in the restaurant appeared to be in danger
“Hot air is pumping out of the vents like the heater is on,” the customer wrote the next day, “and I asked my server to move me, but she explained that the AC units are not working properly and the owners will not fix them.”
The customer reported that the temperature inside the dining area was 100 degrees, and that it was even hotter in the kitchen.
“My server told me they were still forced to go to work and the only [extra] compensation they got was Gatorades,” the customer wrote to state Occupational Safety and Health
regulators, describing the situation as “extremely hazardous.”
The heat-related safety complaint was one of more than 100 received by Oregon OSHA during the last week of June, all of which Stardia obtained through a public records request. The complaints
show that workers across the state feared for their lives as they clocked in amid temperatures as high as 116 degrees, often without enough breaks, water
, or air conditioning.
The restaurant management is forcing employees to work in dangerous heat without air conditioning; the temperature in the building is at least 100*F, and employees are drenched in sweat.
Based on a complaint filed against a Carl's Jr.
The records provide a terrifying glimpse of the dangers that workers across the country will face as heat waves
become more frequent and extreme as a result of global warming
, and the conditions can be even more dangerous in mild climates like Oregon, where many workplaces aren't necessarily equipped for high heat.
Dozens of employees complained about broken air conditioning units that had not been repaired, and many said they were forced to work even when it felt unsafe, and some were reprimanded for taking unauthorized breaks in cooler areas of their workplaces.
Although anyone can file a complaint with OSHA, the majority appear to have come from employees rather than members of the public, and investigators would not have known whether an employer violated the law
in most cases.
The hazards were so prevalent that on July 8, Oregon OSHA implemented an emergency heat rule requiring employers to provide access to water, shade, and adequate breaks during severe weather
, as well as heat stress training, and the state is currently working on a permanent rule.
‘The air conditioning system has failed.’
The fast-food industry received a disproportionate share of the complaints, with requests for assistance coming from McDonald
's, Burger King
Hut, Little Caesars, Jack in the Box, Carl's Jr., Subway, and Chipotle
locations. According to the hazard descriptions in the complaints, restaurant workers
were repeatedly forced to work in scorching-hot kitchens with insufficient air conditioning.
A Pizza Hut menu item:
Employees are being forced to work near ovens while wearing masks
because there is no air conditioning inside the building, which is extremely dangerous, and no changes are being made to mitigate the high risk of heat exhaustion.
A Starbucks employee says:
Employees are exposed to extreme heat
conditions and have been experiencing heat-related illness symptoms because the air conditioning is not working; the business
does not have fans
; and employees are not provided with extra breaks or a cool place to rest.
Employees are covered in sweat and showing signs of heat exhaustion because the restaurant management is forcing them to work without air conditioning in dangerous heat.
The following is a quote from Burger King:
Employees have been working in 100 degree or higher heat with no air conditioner in a hot humidity kitchen for two years; employees have fainted from working in this kind of heat in the past, and employees can't call out if they don't feel they can work.
Another Burger King's quote:
The kitchen has been 110+ degrees for the past few days, and the AC system is broken, which the employer refuses to fix, even though it has been 101 degrees outside. Employees are forced to work regardless of the heat hazard.
Chipotle offers the following menu items:
The thermostat for the air conditioner was not working, and management had previously requested that it be repaired, but it was not addressed.
A Safe Haven in a Locked Fridge
Many employees were perplexed as to why their restaurants
remained open despite the fact that they appeared to be ill-equipped to handle such weather. According to one complaint, management at a pub in Wilsonville threatened to fire anyone who left due to the heat, claiming the temperature was above 90 degrees in the dining area and above 110 degrees in the kitchen: "They eventually closed but not until someo
The air conditioning system is broken, and the employer refuses to repair it, despite the fact that it is 101 degrees outside, but employees are still forced to work.
Based on a Burger King complaint
According to one complaint, there was no air conditioning in a Portland restaurant, causing temperatures to rise above 90 degrees, forcing workers to seek refuge in the walk-in refrigerator.
“However, the manager locked the door to prevent employees from using the only way available for them to cool off,” according to the complaint.
Workers at another Portland restaurant apparently begged managers to close, but to no avail: “Many employees almost passed out and begged management to close the restaurant, but they were told that the company does not want to lose money
A complainant reported that "the entire kitchen staff (10-15 people
) are feeling ill and exhausted from multiple days working in these extremely hot conditions" at a Eugene restaurant.
Readers of Stardia: Have you worked in extreme heat? We'd like to hear from you; send an email to our reporter here.
“Some employees reported feeling ill from the heat, with symptoms including headache, nausea, bloody nose, and feeling foggy,” one worker said of a temperature of 95 degrees recorded near the fryer inside a doughnut shop in Portland, despite the air conditioning running: “Some employees reported feeling ill from the heat, with symptoms including headache, nausea, bloody nose, and feeling foggy.”
Some areas of the store were cooler than others: "the break room and yeasting area were closer to 85 degrees."
'Employees are said to be passing out.'
That's much cooler than the conditions described in a complaint filed against a McMinnville greenhouse, where it was 20 degrees hotter inside than outside and workers weren't getting enough breaks:
“There are no fans inside the greenhouse, and the employer does not provide a place for employees to cool down. Employees asked management if they could come in early so they could leave early to avoid the heat, but they were denied.”
According to the complaint, it was 104 degrees inside a cannabis
dispensary, and there was no air conditioning in a dark building.
According to a complaint filed against a car wash in Scappoose, one employee became ill from heat exhaustion, and “the employer did not respond to employees who tried to bring this problem to his attention,” according to the complaint.
Multiple complaints have been filed against a canvassing agency that raises funds for nonprofits, alleging that workers were going door-to-door or soliciting on the street with little access to shade. It is unclear if all of the complaints were filed by the same person.
“Canvasser looked exhausted and chapped and had run out of drinking water and didn't know where to get more,” one person said, adding that “the canvasser didn't know how to identify the signs of heat stroke
Some employees reported feeling ill as a result of the heat, with symptoms such as headaches, nausea, bloody noses, and foggy thinking.
As a result of a complaint about a doughnut shop
OSHA was notified that dancers at a Portland gay
club were “prone to heat exhaustion, dehydration, and potentially heatstroke” in the poorly ventilated basement where they changed.
One complainant stated that a worker at a Portland food manufacturer fainted due to heat exhaustion, and that the air conditioning was inadequate, especially near the ovens: “Temperatures can be 10 to 20 degrees warmer on [the] floor than outside.”
A complaint against a warehouse stated that workers were struggling to complete basic tasks and that the facility was too large for workers to easily step outside for fresh air: “Employees are said to be passing out and dropping things due to the heat.” A complaint against another warehouse stated that only the break room had air conditioning, but when workers tried to use it, “they are behaving strangely.”
As if the record-breaking temperatures weren't enough, some workers were apparently concerned about another byproduct of climate change
: increased wildfires
. According to one complaint, roofing and sheet metal
workers on a job site in Klamath Falls were working in triple-digit heat while the Tennant and Lava fires burned across the state line in California
According to the complaint, there was “little to no shade and no breaks for an extended period of time