Cal/OSHA Reminds Employers of Wildfire Smoke Standards to Protect Workers
By Jason Resnick, Western Growers Sr. Vice President and General Council
As wildfires continue to rampage throughout California, Cal/OSHA is reminding employers that the state’s protection from wildfire smoke standard requires them to take steps to protect their workers from the resulting unhealthy air.
Hazardous smoke from wildfire
The greatest hazard from workers comes from breathing fine particles in the air – called PM2.5 – which can worsen pre-existing heart and lung conditions and cause wheezing and difficulty breathing. PM2.5 is tracked via the local air quality index (AQI), and it can be monitored via websites like the U.S. EPA’s AirNow or local air quality management district websites.
If the AQI for PM2.5 is 151 or greater, employers must take the following steps to protect employees:
- Communication – Inform employees of the AQI for PM2.5 and the protective measures available to them.
- Training and Instruction – Provide effective training and instruction to all employees on the information contained in section 5141.1 Appendix B.
- 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 or schedules. Examples include changing the location where employees work or reducing the amount of time they work outdoors or exposed to unfiltered outdoor air.
- Respiratory protection – Provide proper respiratory protection equipment, such as disposable respirators, for voluntary use.
- To filter out fine particles, respirators must be labeled N-95, N-99, N-100, R-95, P-95, P-99, or P-100, and must be labeled as approved by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
To assist employers with identifying available supplies of respirators, Cal/OSHA is maintaining a list of vendors who have confirmed they have at least 100,000 NIOSH-certified disposable N95 respirators in stock and available for purchase and delivery.
If the AQI for PM2.5 exceeds 500 due to wildfire smoke, respirator use is required. Employers must ensure employees use respirators and implement a respiratory protection program as required in California’s respiratory standard. For information or help on developing a respiratory protection program, see Cal/OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Fact Sheet.
Click here to read the California Department of Industrial Relations’ full press release.