In this article we discuss regulations from Cal/OSHA aimed at protecting California Workers from Wildfire smoke.
Why is Wildfire Smoke an Issue?
Smoke from wildfires contains chemicals and fine particles that can harm a person’s health significantly. 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.
The smallest and usually the most harmful particulate matter is PM 2.5. This consists of solid particles and liquid droplets suspended in air with an aerodynamic diameter of 2.5 micrometers or smaller.
Regulation Background and Impetus
The Division of Occupational Safety and Health in California (better known as Cal/OSHA) exists to help protect workers from health and safety hazards on the job in almost every workplace in California.
Cal/OSHA’s Emergency Regulation was approved by the Office of Administrative Law. It requires employers to protect workers from hazards associated with wildfire.
On August 27, 2019 Cal/OSHA convened an advisory committee to further discuss the rule. The Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, a seven-member body appointed by the Governor, is the standards-setting agency within the Cal/OSHA program. The Standards Board’s objective is to adopt reasonable and enforceable standards at least as effective as federal standards. The Standards Board also has the responsibility to grant or deny applications for variances from adopted standards and respond to petitions for new or revised standards.
A year later, on August 20, 2020 Cal/OSHA reminded employers that Section 5141.1: Protection from Wildfire Smoke is still effective. It applies to workplaces where the current Air Quality Index (AQI) for airborne PM2.5 is 151 or greater (deemed an unhealthy level) and where the employer should reasonably anticipate that employees may be exposed to wildfire smoke. Reference section 5141.1 for details on the scope and application of this regulation.
Employers Responsibilities Under the New Regulation
Under the new regulation, employers must take the following steps to protect workers who may be exposed to wildfire smoke:
- Identify harmful exposure to airborne particulate matter from wildfire smoke at the start of each shift and periodically thereafter by checking the AQI for PM2.5 in regions where workers are located.
- Reduce harmful exposure to wildfire smoke if feasible. For example, by relocating work to an enclosed building with filtered air or to an outdoor location where the AQI for PM2.5 is 150 or lower.
- If employers cannot reduce workers’ harmful exposure to wildfire smoke so that the AQI for PM2.5 is 150 or lower, they must provide:
- Respirators such as N95 masks to all employees for voluntary use
- Training on the new regulation, the health effects of wildfire smoke, and the safe use and maintenance of respirators
Where can employers check current AQI and forecasts?
Employers can check AQI forecasts and current AQI for PM 2.5 from the following web sources:
- U.S. EPA AirNow
- U.S. Forest Service Wildland Air Quality Response Program
- California Air Resources Board
- Local air pollution control district
- Local air quality management district
Employers can also find out the AQI by telephone, email and text directly from: EPA
Bernadette has over 40 years of experience in the air quality and environmental space. She is proud to be doing her small part in helping to identify air quality issues. Bernadette, Senior Applications Manager, believes that identifying air quality issues is important for the general public so they can be aware of what actions to take. Her wealth of experience allows her to provide solutions that are best suited for each individual application.