Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

On October 27, 2019, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) – an agency more commonly known as Cal/OSHA that helps protect the health and safety of employees in California workplaces – advised employers to protect workers from harmful exposure if the air quality is unhealthy due to the smoke from the wildfires in Northern and Southern California, according to a news release from Cal/OSHA.

California’s protection from wildfire smoke standard applies to workplaces where the Air Quality Index (AQI) for fine particles in the air is 151 or greater and where workers may be exposed to wildfire smoke. Employers must monitor the AQI for atmospheric particulate matter (PM) in the air known as PM2.5. If the AQI for PM2.5 is 151 or greater, employers must take the following steps to protect employees:

  • Communication – Inform employees of the AQI for PM2.5 and the protective measures available to them.
  • Training – Train all employees on the information contained in section 5141.1 Appendix B.
  • Modifications – Implement modifications to the workplace, if feasible, to reduce exposure. Examples include providing enclosed structures or vehicles for employees to work in, where the air is filtered.
  • Changes – Implement practicable changes to work procedures or schedules. Examples include changing the location where employees work or reducing the amount of time they work outdoors or exposed to unfiltered outdoor air.
  • Respiratory protection – 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 affects a worksite, employers can monitor the AQI for PM2.5 that are 2.5 micrometers (about 1 ten-thousandth of an inch) or less in diameter using the following websites: the U.S. EPA AirNow website; the U.S. Forest Service Wildland Air Quality Response Program website; the California Air Resources Board website, and; Local air pollution control district websites or local air quality management district website.

If the AQI for PM2.5 exceeds 500, employers must ensure employees use respirators and implement a respiratory protection program as required in California’s respiratory standard. For information or help on developing a respiratory protection program, see Cal/OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Fact Sheet. Guidance for employers and workers on working safely in smoke caused by the wildfires is available on Cal/OSHA’s web page.

Smoke from wildfires contains chemicals, gases and fine particles that can harm health. The greatest hazard comes from breathing fine particles in the air called PM2.5, which can reduce lung function, worsen asthma and other existing heart and lung conditions, and cause coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. Information on current wildfires is available from CalFire and the Incident Information System website.

People wanting to help evacuees and first responders in the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County may find information about volunteering and donating at the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County (VCSC) and Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership (CVNL), volunteer to serve meals with the World Central Kitchen (WCK), volunteer or donate at the Petaluma People Services Center, or make houses available for free on Airbnb Open Homes.

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