Cal/OSHA Urges Employers to Prepare to Protect Workers from Unhealthy Air due to Wildfire Smoke
Oakland—Cal/OSHA is urging employers in California to be prepared to protect workers
from unhealthy air due to wildfire smoke. When workers might be exposed to unhealthy
air from wildfires, California’s protection from wildfire smoke standard requires
employers to take steps such as changing the location of work operations, modifying
work schedules or providing proper respiratory protection like N95 respirators.
According to CalFire, there have been over 4,000 wildfire incidents so far in California in
2021 and more than 100 structures have been damaged. Smoke from these wildfires
contains chemicals, gases and fine particles that can harm health. One of the most
harmful hazards comes from breathing fine particles in the air (called PM2.5), which can
reduce lung function, worsen asthma or other existing heart and lung conditions, and
cause coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing.
When wildfire smoke affects a worksite, employers must check the air quality index (AQI)
for PM2.5 and throughout the work shift as needed to protect employees. Employers can
monitor the AQI with their own devices or use websites like the U.S. EPA AirNow
website or local air quality management district websites.