Unfortunately, it’s that time of year again: Although this year’s wildfire season has been less active than in years past, wildfire smoke can occur anywhere in California — and on short notice. In September, for instance, unhealthy air quality for sensitive groups impacted parts of Northern California, so the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) reminded employers to follow California’s Protection from Wildfire Smoke standard and prepare now.
This Wildfire Smoke standard applies to most worksites where the air cannot be filtered and the Air Quality Index (AQI) for PM2.5 is 151 or more due to wildfire smoke. If the AQI for PM2.5 is 151 or greater, employers must:
- Inform employees of the AQI for PM2.5 and the protective measures available to them.
- Provide effective training and instruction to all employees on the “Protection from Wildfire Smoke Information to Be Provided to Employees (Mandatory)” in section 5141.1 Appendix B.
- Implement modifications to the workplace, if feasible, to reduce exposure, such as providing enclosed structures or vehicles where the air is filtered for employees to work in.
- Implement practicable changes to work procedures or schedules, like changing the location where employees work or reducing the time they work outdoors or are exposed to unfiltered outdoor air.
- Provide proper respiratory protection equipment, such as disposable respirators, for voluntary use. 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 as approved by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
When wildfire smoke might affect a worksite, employers must monitor the AQI for PM2.5 before and throughout the work shift. Employers can use the U.S. EPA’s AirNow, local air quality management district websites or their own instruments under Cal/OSHA’s requirements. If the AQI for PM2.5 exceeds 500 due to wildfire smoke, respirator use is required.
Consider having respirators ready to go. Employers with outdoor employees should stock up on appropriate respirators to prepare for multiple shifts of employees working in poor air quality to timely comply with regulations and minimize potential disruptions to work.
Katie Culliton, Editor, CalChamber
Download our free Employer Requirements Under California’s Emergency Wildfire Smoke Regulation white paper. Members may download the white paper here. Not a member? Learn how to power your business with a CalChamber membership.