Oregon OSHA Offers Wildfire Smoke and Heat Stress Tips

With multiple wildfire across the state, the agency has posted tips for indoor air quality concerns, respiratory protection (including voluntary use), and heat stress prevention.

With multiple wildfires burning across the state of Oregon, workers are concerned about the potential health impacts of the smoke. To assist, Oregon OSHA has posted tips and information on several topics related to wildfires, including the following.

Indoor air quality concerns:

  • Employers and workers who are concerned about indoor air quality during wildfire season should check their building's ventilation system to make sure it has received routine maintenance, such as filter changes.
  • Workers who are experiencing problems breathing indoors need a way to report their concerns to management so those concerns may be addressed. Saying that a safety committee serves such a purpose, Oregon OSHA noted that it maintains standards for safety committees and safety meetings.
  • Oregon OSHA offers consultation services, technical expertise, and other resources to employers who may need help in light of the potential workplace hazards brought on by wildfire season and also encourages employers to take advantage of no-cost confidential consultation services and other outreach.
  • If employees are worried or believe their concerns have not been addressed, they may file a complaint with Oregon OSHA, which will evaluate it. Complaints may be filed online or by calling the nearest field office.

Respirators and filtering facepieces (dust masks)

  • Respirators are an effective method of protection against designated hazards when properly selected and worn.
  • It is the employer's responsibility to evaluate workplace hazards, including respiratory hazards. Once the employer has established that a respiratory hazard does not exist, voluntary respiratory protection may be used – even when exposures are below the exposure limit – if the employer allows it.
  • If a respirator is used improperly or not kept clean, the respirator itself can become a hazard to the worker.
  • If employers provide respirators for workers' voluntary use or workers provide their own respirator, Oregon OSHA requires employers to take certain steps. Those steps include medically evaluating whether workers are able to wear respirators and giving workers information about the limitations and proper care of respirators.
  • Respirators are not the same as filtering facepieces (dust masks). Medical evaluations are not required for filtering facepieces when the masks are used on a voluntary basis.
  • Filtering facepieces that are not certified by NIOSH are not tested for filtration effectiveness and may not offer a consistent level of protection from particles. This means that they may offer little protection.

Heat stress

  • Oregon OSHA addresses heat stress issues through rules concerning general environmental controls, extraordinary hazards, sanitation, and personal protective equipment.
  • Oregon OSHA maintains a heat-stress prevention program designed to prevent heat-related illnesses. Under the program, the agency's enforcement and consultation activities will include a review of employers' plans to deal with heat exposure, especially from June 15 through Oct. 1.
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