Wildfire Smoke Protection Rules Now in Effect
Cal/OSHA has issued emergency regulations* that require employers of outdoor workers to take protective measures, including providing respiratory equipment, when air quality is significantly affected by wildfires. The rules require employers to take action when the Air Quality Index (AQI) for particulate matter 2.5 is more than 150 (the “unhealthy” range).
The protections also would be triggered when a state agency issues a wildfire smoke advisory or when there is a “realistic possibility” that workers would be exposed to wildfire smoke. The regulations apply to all employers with “a worker who is outdoors for more than an hour cumulative during a shift.”
Check the Air Quality Index
Employers of outdoor workers must check the AQI at the worksite to see if it is above 150, which would require the employer to take protective measures for the workers. AQI can be checked in the following ways:
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s AirNow website.
- The California Air Resources Board website.
- Your local air pollution control district website.
- Checking PM2.5 levels at the worksite and converting them to the corresponding AQI (Appendix A of the regulations explains how).
Employers must implement a system for communicating smoke hazards to affected employees, including allowing employees to inform the employer of such hazards at the worksite. Communications should include:
- The current AQI for PM2.5.
- Protective measures available to workers.
- Reporting symptoms such as asthma attacks, difficulty breathing and chest pain.
Employers with outside workers should train them in:
- The health effects of wildfire smoke.
- The right to obtain medical treatment without fear of reprisal.
- How employees can obtain the current AQI for PM2.5.
- The requirements in Cal/OSHA’s regulation about wildfire smoke.
- The employer’s communication system.
- The employer’s methods to protect employees from smoke.
- The importance, limitations, and benefits of using a respirator when exposed to wildfire smoke. • How to use and maintain respirators provided by the employer.
When the AQI exceeds 150, employers with outdoor workers can implement:
Such as providing enclosed structures where employees can continue working, or
- Relocating workers,
- Changing work schedules,
- Reducing work intensity, or
- Giving them additional rest periods, or
Respiratory protective equipment
The employer must provide respirators to all employees for voluntary use, and encourage them to use them. Respirators shall be NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)-approved devices that effectively protect the wearers from inhalation of PM2.5, such as N95 filtering face-piece respirators. Respirators shall be cleaned, stored, maintained and replaced so that they do not present a health hazard to users. When the AQI for PM2.5 is 501 or more, respirators are required.
*The Temporary Emergency Standard explained above was changed to a Permanent Standard in 2021 with minor changes. Read about the Permanent Standard here.
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