Cal/OSHA has issued an advisory to employers, telling them to take special precautions to protect their workers from hazards related to wildfire smoke.
The smoke that is produced from wildfires contains chemicals, gases, and fine particles than can cause damage to a person’s health. The biggest threat to people during a wildfire is breathing in fine particles, which can affect lung function or make asthma work. Other existing heart and lung conditions can be made worse from inhaling fine particles. Additionally, people might start coughing, wheezing, or have difficulty breathing after breathing wildfire smoke.
You can find advice for employers and workers for how to safely work in heavy smoke conditions that have been caused by wildfires, here.
Under Title 8 section 3203 of the California Code of Regulations, section 5141 (Control of Harmful Exposure to Employees) requires employers with business operations that might be exposed to wildfire smoke to consider taking appropriate measures as part of their Injury and Illness Prevention Program. These measures include:
- Engineering controls whenever feasible, such as using a filtered ventilation system for indoor work spaces.
- Administrative controls if practicable, like limiting the amount of time that employees are allowed to perform work duties outdoors.
- Providing their workers with respiratory protective equipment, such as disposable filtering facepieces and other types of “dust masks.”
- In order to properly filter out fine particles, all respirators used by employees must be labeled N-95, N-99, N-100, R-95, P-95, P-99, or P-100. The respirators must also be labeled and approved by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
- Employees who are working in outdoor locations that have been designated by local air quality management districts as “Unhealthy,” “Very Unhealthy,” or “Hazardous,” require approved respiratory protective equipment.
It is important to note that it takes more effort to breathe through a respirator and it can also increase the risk of succumbing to heat stress. This is why Cal/OSHA advises employees who are using respirators to take frequent breaks. Workers who are feeling dizzy, faint, or nauseated should immediately go to a clean area, take off their respirator, and get medical attention.
Respirators should be discarded once they start to become difficult to breathe through or if the inside of the device is too dirty. Employees should use new respirators each day they work.
Cal/OSHA helps protect workers from health and safety hazards in workplaces throughout California. Cal/OSHA's Consultation Services Branch offers free and voluntary assistance to employers to make improvements to their company’s health and safety programs.
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