After the Smoke Clears: Cal/OSHA Offers Fire Cleanup Safety Guidance

al/OSHA warns that unstable structures pose a danger to workers
Cal/OSHA warns that unstable structures pose a danger to workers.

The wildfires in California’s wine country — that have charred roughly 160,000 acres and ruined more than 7,000 structures — are reaching full containment, prompting Cal/OSHA to call attention to the hazards that exist after the smoke and flames have cleared.

The agency is reminding employers and workers who are executing the cleanup in fire-damaged or -destroyed areas that they must identify and evaluate these hazards, correct any unsafe or unhealthy conditions, and provide training to employees.

The potential hazards that exist and how to mitigate possible harm include:

Possible Hazard
Safety Tip
Fire from heat sources like smoldering wood or debris may come into contact with flammable material. Provide fire extinguishers at every cleanup job.
Power lines and electrical equipment may re-energize after an outage. Take precautions when generators are used at worksites and if water has been near electrical circuits or equipment.
Flammable gases may be exposed from pipes and tanks. Make sure pipes and tanks are properly shut off if they are potentially damaged or leaking.
Unstable structures from fire damage may collapse without warning. Assume structures are unstable until examined and certified safe for work by a qualified person.
Toxic exposure, asphyxiation, electrocution and injury from unguarded moving machinery may occur in confined spaces. Evaluate worksites to determine if confined spaces exist and review all safety requirements for working in them.
Ash, soot and dust can cause irritation and damage to workers’ lungs if inhaled. When exposure likely would cause injury or illness, employers must provide NIOSH-certified respirators designated as N-95 or greater.
Outdoor workers may experience heat illness. Employers must provide potable drinking water free of charge, rest breaks and access to shade to prevent heat illness.
Handling, cutting or breaking up debris can result in sharp or flying objects. Employers must provide and ensure employees wear appropriate eye, hand and foot protection.


These are just a few hazards and guidelines Cal/OSHA offers; visit the agency’s website for more detailed information.

Jessica Mulholland, Senior Editor

CalChamber members can read more about Providing Personal Protective Equipment and Heat Illness in the HR Library. Not a member? See how CalChamber can help you.

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