Did you know the Cal/OSHA (California Division of Occupational Safety and Health) reminded employers to keep employees and workers safe from dangerous air caused by wildfire smoke?

A press release conducted on July 13 highlighted that California has recorded over 4000 wildfire accidents this year. More than 100 properties or buildings have suffered from extensive fire-related damage.

According to state regulations on wildfire smoke protection, companies must change or upgrade work locations, modify duty schedules, and provide complete respiratory protection for any unsafe conditions.

Note that if wildfire smoke enters a worksite, employers or companies must assess the air quality index during the work shift for fire particles present in the air (referred to as PM2.5) according to Cal/OSHA. This is because contaminated air can cause difficulty in breathing, wheezing, and coughing.

It may also exacerbate existing lung and heart-related conditions. Keep in mind that fine particles of wildfire smoke contain harmful chemicals.

If the air quality index for PM 2.5 is 150 or higher, employers must:

  • Inform workers of the poor air-quality levels and ensure that they take protective measures.

  • Provide instructions and training on the health effects wildfire smoke may cause

  • Implement modifications to the site, if feasible, to limit exposure to wildfire smoke.

  • Require unvaccinated employees to wear a face-covering if work is indoors according to the Cal/OSHA’s emergency standard on COVID-19.

However, if the air quality for PM 2.5 is below 500 due to wildfire smoke, employees must use a respirator. In this case, employers are responsible for implementing a respiratory protection program to ensure that all workers or employees use respirators.

Background and Impetus of Cal/OSHA Wildfire Smoke Regulation

Cal/OSHA or the Division of Occupational Safety typically exists to protect employees from various health and safety hazards on the workplace or job site in California. Cal/OSHA sets regulations that can help in the event of an emergency.

The administrative law office has approved all regulations. The agency requires all active employers in the State of California to protect employees from dangers and perils associated with wildfires.

On August 27, Cal/OSHA conducted an advisory committee to discuss the regulation. The board of Safety and Health standards comprising seven members makes the standard-setting within Cal/OSHA program. The primary objective of the board is to create enforceable, reasonable, and practical standards that are effective as federal regulations.

Cal/OSHA, according to section 5141.1, reminded employers about maintaining workers’ safety and protecting them from hazardous wildfire smoke. The wildfire smoke standards of Cal/OSHA apply to job sites with a low air quality index that’s deemed unhealthy for workers.

In such situations, employers are required to anticipate if their workers are exposed to the hazards of wildfire smoke.

Why is Wildfire Smoke a Significant Issue?

It is worth mentioning that wildfire smoke includes the fine particles of dangerous gases and chemicals. One of the biggest concerns is the presence of PM 2.5 matter in the air. As mentioned above, the tiny specks inhibit lung functions, which can worsen cardiovascular issues and asthma. Moreover, these particles may exacerbate COVID-19 symptoms.

Cal/OSHA emphasized that if the local air quality shows PM2.5 reaching 150 or higher – employers should consider it a forecast. They must immediately share it with outdoor workers and ask them to take precautionary measures. Employees also should modify workplaces if feasible. This may include making arrangements for employees to work in filtered air.

If they can’t, it is crucial for employers either to limit exposure of the employees to polluted air or to provide face masks approved by the Cal/OSHA such as N95, N99, P99, P100, or R95 filtration standards.

Glenn Fankhauser -Kern Ag Commissioner, said through a mail that he is unaware of local operations that had to shut down due to poor air quality.

He further stated that the Californian state had ensured the availability of N95 masks, particularly for distributing to farmers who have to work in smoke-filled environments.

The Grower-Shipper Association noted a limited crossover between COVID-19 masks and wildfire practices in southern California. Similarly, AG employers need to distribute N95 masks to employees. It stated in a recent news release that it is making sure all members have knowledge of the state’s regulatory requirements for days of poor air quality.

The state understands that workplace safety is an important consideration, especially during the pandemic. Consequently, companies and employees must prioritize some mandatory exposure mitigation steps to protect employees and workers from wildfire smoke.

Employers Can Assess Local Pm2.5 Level with an Advanced Cal/Osha Wildfire Smoke Monitor

Ensuring outdoor employees receive protection from the effects of wildfire smoke requires hyper-local data that is reliable. Monitoring PM2.5 levels with an advanced direct-reading instrument, in this regard, is the best way to get this vital data.

Considering this, Cal/OSHA has outlined some mandatory requirements for companies looking to place wildfire smoke monitors.

However, it is crucial that employers demonstrate that the selected PM2.5 monitors:

  • Doesn’t underestimate worker exposure to wildfire smoke

  • are manufactured to gauge ≤ 0.3μm to 2.5μm

  • Necessary accessories and instruments are calibrated, well-maintained, and utilized, following the instructions provided by the manufacturer.

  • Is employed under the control and care of someone with mandatory training or experience in air quality monitoring

Can Employers Check Existing AQI and Forecasts?

Employers can assess all the AQI forecasts for PM 2.5 from the web sources like;

Consult With a Workers’ Compensation Attorney in California

If Cal/OSHA regulations regarding employee protection from unhealthy wildfire smoke seem difficult to understand, a qualified workers’ comp lawyer or attorney, such as James E. Latimer, can help you. he has extensive experience in dealing with the worker’s comp system. He can assist you in your workers’ compensation case related to current Cal/OSHA regulations. You can contact one of the most reliable attorneys in California at the Law Offices of James E. Latimer or schedule an appointment by dialing 510-444-6555.