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California Wildfire Smoke Regulation in Effect NOW

Wildfire smoke regulation in California

The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (Cal/OSHA) has put in place an emergency regulation requiring employers to protect
workers from hazards associated with wildfire smoke. This emergency regulation is effective from July 29th through January 28, 2020.

What Employers Need to Know

This regulation is temporary, covering the 2018 fire season until Cal/OSHA establishes a permanent regulation at the end of August.

It primarily affects outdoor occupations and industries, including agriculture, construction, maintenance, landscaping.

Under the new regulation, employers must take steps to protect workers who could be exposed to wildfire smoke. Employers will need to:

  • Identify harmful exposure to airborne particulate matter from wildfire smoke at the start of each shift and periodically thereafter by checking the AQI (air quality index) for fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) in regions where workers are located.
  • If the AQI is greater than 150 and it's "reasonably anticipated" that employees will be exposed to wildfire smoke, then employers must reduce exposure to the smoke.

This can be accomplished by relocating employees to enclosed buildings with filtered air, or to another outdoor location where the air quality index is less than 150.

If relocation isn't practical, then employers must give employees the option to use air respirators such as the N95.

When the air quality index for PM 2.5 exceeds 500, respirator use is mandatory, and employers must also comply with the respiratory protection requirements contained in section 5144, including fit testing and medical evaluations.

The regulation document also offers many options for checking the AQI 2.5 levels.

Employers must communicate to employees about AQI levels, including relaying information about available protective measures, and encourage employees to inform them of worsening air quality and any adverse symptoms resulting from smoke exposure. Employers must also provide training on the new regulation. You can read the full text of the regulation, here, for monitoring and training requirements and more.

Some Workplaces are Exempt

Workplaces that are in enclosed buildings or vehicles that have air filter systems, firefighters engaged in firefighting, or employees with only short-term exposure to the smoke (less than one hour), are exempt from the regulation.

However, all employers with a worker who could spend a cumulative hour or more outside over the course of a shift must comply with the regulation, which could include employers whose employees are intermittently exposed to outside air. For example, certain warehouse jobs where employees might move in and out of doors or delivery jobs could fall under the emergency regulation.

What Should Employers Do Now?

Quickly determine whether the smoke protection requirements apply to their business and, if so:

  • Familiarize themselves with how to monitor AQI information
  • Develop the appropriate training and information for their employees; and
  • Stock up on respirators like the N95s now, especially if you have outdoor employees, to facilitate timely compliance with the regulations and minimize potential disruptions in work.

Employers in California should follow these steps and consult legal counsel to avoid disrupting their business any more than necessary during wildfires.



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