With wildfire season upon our state, employers may not be aware that they are responsible to monitor the air quality of their employees and protect their health and safety.
It's important because 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 reduce lung function, worsen asthma and other existing heart/lung conditions, and causes coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing.
- Monitor Outdoor Air at your work place location (use websites)
- If AQI PM2.5 reaches unhealthy levels (151 or more), 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 of CA Code of Regulations, Title 8.
- 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 US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
- If the AQI for PM2.5 exceeds 500, respirator use is required.
- Employers must ensure employees uses 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.
- If respirators cannot be provided in a timely manner, employers should relocate employees to areas of safe AQI or send them home until work air quality conditions are safe to return to work.
Why It Is Important:
The main harmful pollutant for people who are not close to the fire is "particulate matter," the tiny particles suspended in the air. Particulate matter can irritate the lungs and cause persistent coughing, phlegm, wheezing, or difficulty breathing. Particulate matter can also cause more serious problems, such as reduced lung function, bronchitis, worsening of asthma, heart failure, and early death. Finally, an Air Quality
Index (AQI) over 100 is unhealthy for sensitive people and an AQI over 150 is unhealthy for everyone.
When AQI is 151 or greater, employers should follow the following protective methods:
- Locate work in enclosed structures or vehicles where the air is filtered.
- Change procedures such as moving workers to a place with a lower current AQI for PM2.5.
- Reduce work time in areas with unfiltered air.
- Increase rest time and frequency, and providing a rest area with filtered air.
- Reduce the physical intensity of the work to help lower the breathing and heart rates
Respirators can be an effective way to protect employee health by reducing exposure to wildfire smoke, when they are properly selected and worn:
- When the current AQI for PM2.5 is 151 or greater, employers shall provide their workers with proper respirators for voluntary use. If the current AQI is greater than 500, respirator use is required.
- Surgical masks or items worn over the nose and mouth such as scarves, T-shirts, and bandannas will not provide protection against wildfire smoke.
Employer Information Resources:
- Guidance for employers and workers on working safely in conditions with smoke caused by the wildfires is available on the Cal/OSHA web page with information for protecting outdoor workers, details on how to protect indoor workers from outdoor air pollution, and frequently asked questions about N95 masks.
- Current wildfire info:CalFire or Incident Information System website.
- Cal/OSHA helps protect workers from health and safety hazards on the job in almost every workplace in California. Cal/OSHA's Consultation Services Branch offers free and voluntary assistance to employers to improve their health and safety programs. Employers can call (800) 963-9424 for assistance, or for assistance visit Cal/OSHA Consultation Services.
- Learn standards and proper use of N95 Respirator/Dust Mask.
Employee Information Resources:
Employees with work-related questions or complaints may contact DIR's Call Center in English or Spanish at (844-LABOR-DIR) or (844-522-6734).
The California Workers' Information line at (866-924-9757) provides recorded information in English and Spanish on a variety of work-related topics.
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