OSHA Reminds Employers to Protect Employees from CA Wildfire Smoke

As a number of wildfires burn in California, OSHA reminds employers to be mindful of air quality regulations and protect employees from unhealthy wildfire smoke.

The California OSHA is advising employer of the necessary steps to protect employees from harmful exposure to wildfire smoke and unhealthy air quality. The state’s protection from wildfire smoke standard applies to workplaces where the Air Quality Index (AQI) for fine particles in the air is 151 or greater and where workers be exposed to smoke from wildfires.

When wildfire smoke is present at a worksite, employers must not only monitor the AQI, but they need to react accordingly. Employers can measure AQI particulate matter in the air, or the PM2.5, on the following websites, according to the Department of Industrial Relations in California news release:

If the AQI for PM2.5 is 151 or greater, employers must take the following steps to protect employees from harmful smoke:

  • Communication: Inform employees of the AQI for PM2.5 and the protective measures available to them.
  • Modifications: Implement modifications to the workplace, if feasible, to reduce exposure. Examples include providing enclosed structures or vehicles for employees to work in, where the air is filtered.
  • Changes: Implement practicable changes to work procedures and schedules such as changing the work site location or reducing the amount of time employees work outdoors or exposed to unfiltered outdoor air.
  • Respiratory protection: provide proper respiratory protection equipment, such as disposable respirators, for voluntary use. See the news release for the specific requirements each disposable respirator needs.

Smoke from wildfires can be extremely harmful to a person’s health. Wildfire smoke contains chemicals, gases, and fine particles. The greatest hazard comes from breathing fine particles in the air, which can reduce lung function, worsen asthma and other heart and lung conditions, and cause coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.

Cal/OSHA’s web page provides useful guidance for employers and workers on working safely in conditions with smoke caused by wildfires. It also includes information for protecting outdoor workers, how to protect indoor workers from outdoor air pollution, and frequently asked questions about N95 masks.

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