California Safety Board Oks Regulation to Protect Workers from Wildfire Smoke

July 19, 2019

The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board has adopted an emergency regulation designed to protect workers from hazards associated with wildfire smoke.

The regulation is expected to go into effect in early August and be effective for one year. It applies to workplaces where the current Air Quality Index for airborne particulate matter is 151 or greater, and where employers should 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 from wildfire smoke before each shift and periodically thereafter by checking the AQI for PM 2.5 in regions where workers are located.
  • Reduce harmful exposure to wildfire smoke if feasible, for example, by relocating work to an enclosed building with filtered air or to an outdoor location where the AQI for PM 2.5 is 150 or lower.

If employers cannot reduce workers’ harmful exposure to wildfire smoke so that the AQI for PM 2.5 is 150 or lower, they must provide:

  • Respirators such as N95 masks to all employees for voluntary use.
  • Training on the new regulation, the health effects of wildfire smoke, and the safe use and maintenance of respirators.

This emergency rulemaking process began last December, after the Standards Board received a petition to protect workers from wildfire smoke before this year’s wildfire season. The Standards Board is expected to file the regulation tomorrow with the Office of Administrative Law, which has 10 working days to review and approve it as a new workplace safety standard enforced by Cal/OSHA.

Once approved and published, the full text of the adopted emergency regulation, including all requirements, exemptions and exceptions, will appear in the new Title 8 section 5141.1 of the California Code of Regulations.

The California Department of Industrial Relations’ Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, a seven-member body appointed by the governor, is the standards-setting agency within the Cal/OSHA program.

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.