2018 was the most destructive fire season in California’s history. According to the National Interagency Coordination Center’s year-end statistical roundup, more than 1.8 million acres of California was burned by wildland fires.
In response, on July 29, 2019, California’s Office of Administrative Law approved an emergency regulation to protect workers from the hazards associated with wildfire smoke. The regulation can be found in California Code of Regulations, Title 8, Section 5141.1, and is in effect until January 28, 2020. There will likely be two 90-day extensions before Cal/OSHA will move to make this a permanent regulation.
The emergency regulation applies to workplaces where the current Air Quality Index (AQI) for airborne particulate matter (PM) is 151 or greater, and to areas where employers can reasonably anticipate that employees could be exposed to wildfire smoke.
Under the new regulation, employers must take the following steps to protect workers who may be exposed to wildfire smoke:
- Identify harmful exposure to airborne particulate matter.
- Reduce harmful exposure to wildfire smoke, if feasible, through work reduction or relocation, or,
- If employers cannot reduce workers’ harmful exposure to wildfire smoke, they must provide:
- Respirators, such as N95 masks, to all employees for voluntary use, and
- Training on the new regulation, the health effects of wildfire smoke, and the safe use and maintenance of respirators. Complete training requirements and details can be found in Appendix B of the regulation.
The Authority offers training on Respiratory Protection. Additionally, Authority members have access to a white paper written on wildfire risk management. This white paper provides recommendations and resources to aid in understanding and managing wildfire and post-wildfire-related risks, and includes information on coordinating resources, communicating with the community, and establishing and enforcing sound loss prevention and defensible space practices.