In anticipation of another heavy wildfire season employers are reminded that wildfire smoke and subsequent cleanup efforts present unique workplace hazards.

In California, Cal/OSHA mandates protective equipment (e.g., N95 masks) as a wildfire season necessity in areas where the current Air Quality Index (current AQI) for airborne particulate matter 2.5 micrometers or smaller (PM2.5) is 151 or greater[1], and where employers should reasonably anticipate that employees could be exposed to wildfire smoke.

Wildfire smoke – composed of harmful chemicals and small matter particulate – can significantly impact the health of outdoor workers. When it comes to air quality, employers must:

  • Take steps to ensure worker safety (e.g., relocation, modify procedures, amend schedules)[2].
  • Provide PPE equipment as necessary (e.g., NIOSH-approved N-95 masks).
  • Check AQI for PM2.5 levels throughout each working shift.
  • Notify workers if the AQI for PM2.5 rises above 151 or greater and enact emergency protective measures.
  • Notify workers if the AQI for PM2.5 is higher than 500, distribute N-95 masks and implement a respiratory protection program.

Developing and maintaining a wildfire emergency plan allows an employer to quickly address health and safety issues associated with wildfire smoke and cleanup. Cal/OSHA mandates the following:

  • Training employees on how to protect themselves from wildfire smoke inhalation[3].
  • Identifying (in advance) all feasible worksite modifications and changes to quickly act to reduce exposure to wildfire smoke (e.g., relocation, safety procedures, scheduling).[4]
  • Training supervisory personnel on modification/change procedures.

Employers should remember to follow Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standards when relocating workers to indoor locations.

Visit the CA Department of Industrial Relations Worker Protection from Wildfire Smoke and Worker Safety and Health in Wildfire Regions webpages for additional information on protecting workers from the hazards of wildfire smoke and cleanup. Additional resources can be found by visiting the U.S. Dept. of Labor OSHA Wildfires webpage.

[1] An exception exists where workers are exposed to a current AQI for PM2.5 of 151 or greater for a total of one hour or less during a shift.

[2] This includes implementing a system for communicating wildfire smoke hazards in a language and manner readily understandable by workers.

[3] Cal/OSHA mandates effective training that includes information found in subsections e and Appendix B of Cal. Code of Regulations Section 5141.1

[4] Cal. Code of Regulations Section 5141.1 subsection (f).

WG Staff Contact

Teresa McQueen
Corporate Counsel

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