CAL/OSHA Issues Advisory on Worker Safety in Wildfire Regions

Oct 17 2017 - Workplace Safety - Gail Cecchettini Whaley

Air quality can change quickly at different times during the day due to wind shifts.

Air quality can change quickly at different times during the day due to wind shifts.

Cal/OSHA is advising employers that special precautions must be taken to protect workers from hazards from wildfire smoke.

Cal/OSHA notes that smoke from wildfires contains chemicals, gases and fine particles that can harm health. Breathing fine particles can reduce lung function, worsen asthma and other existing heart and lung conditions, and cause coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing.

Cal/OSHA has posted materials that provide guidance for employers and workers on working safely in conditions with heavy smoke caused by the wildfires. This website also provides a list of locations where N95 respirator masks are being distributed.

Employers with operations exposed to wildfire smoke must consider taking appropriate measures as part of their Injury and Illness Prevention Program under Title 8 section 3203 of the California Code of Regulations and as required under section 5141 (Control of Harmful Exposure to Employees).

Those measures include:

  • Engineering controls whenever feasible (for example, using a filtered ventilation system in indoor work areas).
  • Administrative controls if practicable (for example, limiting the time that employees work outdoors).
  • Providing workers with respiratory protective equipment, such as disposable filtering facepieces (dust masks).
    • 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 approved by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
    • Approved respiratory protective equipment is necessary for employees working in outdoor locations designated by local air quality management districts as “Very Unhealthy,” “Unhealthy” or “Hazardous.”
      • It takes more effort to breathe through a respirator, and it can increase the risk of heat stress. Frequent breaks are advised. Workers feeling dizzy, faint or nauseous are advised to go to a clean area, remove the respirator and seek medical attention.
      • Respirators should be discarded if they become difficult to breathe through or if the inside becomes dirty.

Gail Cecchettini Whaley, CalChamber Employment Law Counsel/Content

CalChamber members can read more on Injury and Illness Prevention Program in the HR Library. Not a member? See how CalChamber can help you.

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