Cal/OSHA to Employers: Protect Workers from Hazards of Wildfire Smoke
In December, Cal/OSHA issued an advisory urging employers to take special precautions to protect workers from hazards related to wildfire smoke, which contains chemicals, gases, and fine particles that can harm health. Breathing fine particles—the greatest hazard, according to the agency—can reduce lung function, worsen asthma and other heart and lung conditions, and cause coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. Employers with operations exposed to wildfire smoke must take appropriate measures to protect workers, including providing them with respiratory protective equipment such as NIOSH-approved N-95, N-99, N-100, R-95, P-95, P-99, or P-100 respirators, which filter out fine particles. Employees working in California in outdoor locations designated by local air quality management districts as “very unhealthy,” “unhealthy,” or “hazardous” must be provided with approved respiratory protective equipment.  Other protective measures include engineering controls, like using a filtered ventilation system in indoor work areas, whenever feasible. Administrative controls such as limiting the time that employees work outdoors are also recommended. A Cal/OSHA webpage on worker safety and health in wildfire regions collects information and resources on protecting workers who are exposed to wildfire smoke and worker safety during fire cleanup operations.