With wildfires currently raging throughout California, Cal/OSHA is advising employers that special precautions should be taken to protect workers from hazards from wildfire smoke.
In a recent advisory, Cal/OSHA emphasizes how smoke from wildfires contains chemicals, gases and fine particles that can harm health. The greatest hazard comes from breathing fine particles in the air, which can reduce lung function, worsen asthma and other existing heart and lung conditions, and cause coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing.
Guidance for employers and workers on working safely in conditions with heavy smoke caused by the wildfires is available on Cal/OSHA’s web page, including information for protecting outdoor workers, details on how to protect indoor workers from outdoor air pollution, and frequently asked questions about N95 masks.
When employees are working outdoors where the air is affected by wildfire smoke, employers are required by Cal/OSHA’s standards on Control of Harmful Exposure to Employees and Respiratory Protection to determine if the outdoor air is a “harmful exposure” to employees. Exposure is harmful when the pollution or contaminants in the air cause (or are likely to cause) injury, illness, disease, impairment or loss of function.
When exposure to wildfire smoke is considered harmful, employers are required to take the following measures to protect workers:
- Implement feasible modifications to the workplace to reduce exposure. Examples include providing enclosed structures or vehicles for employees to work in, where the air is filtered.
- 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.
- Provide proper respiratory protection equipment, such as disposable respirators, if the previous measures are not feasible or do not prevent harmful exposures.
- 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).
Cal/OSHA helps protect workers from health and safety hazards on the job in almost every workplace in California. Cal/OSHA’s Consultation Services Branch provides free and voluntary assistance to employers to improve their health and safety programs.
Additionally, Western Growers Insurance Services can help members take steps to protect their properties and avoid fire losses. Click here for information on risk protection insurance and two coverages that apply during a wildfire crisis—crop Insurance and weather risk. Click here for actions you can take to reduce the chance of fire affecting your home or business.