CA New Regulations to protect outdoor workers from wildfire smoke
Posted on December 3, 2019
Wildfires in California are increasing in nature, putting people, companies and their employees within harm’s way. As a result of these wildfires, the California Department of Industrial Relations’ (DIR)
Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (OSHA) adopted an emergency regulation protecting outdoor CA employees from wildfire smoke. This regulation took effect in July 2019 and is effective for one year. What does this mean?
Work sites that are indoors and where air is filtered by mechanical ventilation is exempt. Additionally, firefighters are also exempt from protection under the regulation, and outdoor work sites where the AQI level does not exceed 151, or where the AQI level is 151 or greater for one hour or less during a shift.
Employers in California are responsible for determining employee exposure and protecting those workers who may be exposed to forms of wildfire smoke. These are the protocols they must follow:
- Identification of any harmful exposure to airborne particles or matter from wildfire smile before each work shift begins, and periodically during that shift by checking the AQI for PM 2.5 in any region workers are located.
- Reduction of harmful exposure of wildfire smoke. This may require relocating workers to an enclosed building with filtered air, or to another location where the AQI for PM 2.5 is 150 or lower.
- Provide respirators for employees where they can voluntarily use them if working conditions do not allow the removal from harmful exposure to wildfire smoke. Employees must also be trained on the new regulation, provided information on the health effects of wildfire smoke, and the safe use and maintenance of respirators.
A follow-up comprehensive review of this regulation will be done by Cal/OSHA with an advisory committee using the normal rule making process to permanently adopt these regulations. Until that time, the emergency regulation remains in effect.
Training is necessary
Because this regulation requires so much from employers in terms of them anticipating when wildfire smoke may become harmful to employees, it is important to have a team in place who has expertise in this area to keep the organization in compliance. There are federal and state websites that report the AQI levels daily, allowing employers to record when they visited the website and AQI level. If the level is above 151, the employer must communicate to the staff the next steps in limiting their exposure to wildfire smoke. For more information, employers may visit www.airnow.gov.
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