Cal/OSHA Reminds Employers to Protect Workers if the Air Quality is Unhealthy due to Wildfire Smoke

(reposted from the Cal/OSHA website: http://www.oesnews.com/cal-osha-reminds-employers-to-protect-workers-if-the-air-quality-is-unhealthy-due-to-wildfire-smoke/)

Oakland—Cal/OSHA is advising employers that steps must be taken to protect workers from harmful exposure if the air quality is unhealthy due to wildfire smoke.

California’s protection from wildfire smoke standard applies to workplaces where the Air Quality Index (AQI) for fine particles in the air is 151 or greater and where workers may be exposed to wildfire smoke.

When wildfire smoke affects a worksite, employers must monitor the AQI for particulate matter in the air, known as PM2.5. Employers can monitor the AQI using the following websites:

If the AQI for PM2.5 is 151 or greater, employers must take the following steps to protect employees:

  • Communication – Inform employees of the AQI for PM2.5 and the protective measures available to them.
  • Training – Train all employees on the information contained in section 5141.1 Appendix B.
  • Modifications – Implement modifications to the workplace, if feasible, to reduce exposure. Examples include providing enclosed structures or vehicles for employees to work in, where the air is filtered.
  • Changes – 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 or exposed to unfiltered outdoor air.
  • Respiratory protection – 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 US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

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 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 smoke caused by the wildfires is available on Cal/OSHA’s web page, including information for protecting outdoor workersdetails on how to protect indoor workers from outdoor air pollution, andfrequently asked questions about N95 masks.

Information on current wildfires is available from CalFire and the Incident Information System website.

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. Employers should call (800) 963-9424 for assistance from Cal/OSHA Consultation Services.

Employees with work-related questions or complaints may contact DIR’s Call Center in English or Spanish at 844-LABOR-DIR (844-522-6734). The California Workers’ Information line at 866-924-9757 provides recorded information in English and Spanish on a variety of work-related topics. Complaints can also be filed confidentially withCal/OSHA district offices.

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Monica is a Public Information Officer for the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES). She has been involved in the Aliso Canyon Gas Leak, Valley Fire, Butte Fire, historic drought, Oroville Dam Emergency Spillway Incident and 2017 winter storms. She previously served Cal OES as an analyst in international affairs, technology operations and executive staff support.