As wildfire smoke affects the Sierra and foothills, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) reminds employers to take steps to protect their workers from that unhealthy air. This is just the beginning of the wildfire season in California, so California employers must be prepared.
When wildfire smoke might affect a worksite, employers need to monitor the air quality index for particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) before and throughout the work shift. Air quality can be tracked through the U.S. EPA’s AirNow or local air quality management district websites. Using Cal/OSHA’s requirements, employers can use their own instruments, too.
Smoke from wildfires contains chemicals, gases and fine particles that can harm health. The greatest hazard comes from breathing fine particles in the air (called PM2.5), which can reduce lung function; worsen asthma or other existing heart and lung conditions; and cause coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing.
If the AQI for PM2.5 is 151 or greater, employers must:
- Inform employees of the AQI for PM2.5 and the protective measures available to them.
- Provide effective training and instruction to all employees on the “Protection from Wildfire Smoke Information to Be Provided to Employees (Mandatory)” in section 5141.1 Appendix B.
- Implement modifications to the workplace, if feasible, to reduce exposure, such as providing enclosed structures or vehicles where the air is filtered for employees to work in.
- Implement practicable changes to work procedures or schedules, like changing the location where employees work or reducing the time they work outdoors or are exposed to unfiltered outdoor air.
- 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 U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
If the AQI for PM2.5 exceeds 500 due to wildfire smoke, respirator use is required.
Employers should also visit Cal/OSHA’s Worker Safety and Health in Wildfire Regions website for additional information and resources.