Historically, California has experienced the most destructive wildfires in the months of September and October. As we head into those months, employers should make sure they are familiar with California’s wildfire smoke standard. Harmful air quality from wildfire smoke can occur anywhere in the state on short notice, so it is vital that employers prepare early.
With some exceptions, the standard applies to workplaces where the air quality index is 151 (Unhealthy) or higher and where it’s reasonably anticipated that employees may be exposed to wildfire smoke. In addition to applying to outdoor settings, the standard also applies to indoor locations where the air is not filtered or if doors and windows are kept open, such as warehouses, packing, manufacturing, and distribution facilities.
Under the wildfire smoke standard, employers must protect employees from smoke by:
- Monitoring the local air quality index;
- Ensure open communication with employees;
- Train employees on the information contained in Appendix B to Section 5141.1;
- Modifying the workplace, if possible, to reduce exposure to wildfire smoke; and
- Providing proper respiratory protection, like N95 respirators, for voluntary use when work must be performed in a location with poor air quality.
Moreover, if the air quality index for particulate matter (PM) 2.5 exceeds 500 due to wildfire smoke, respirator use is mandatory. Employers must make sure employees are using respirators correctly in these situations. If employers cannot move operations and do not have access to respiratory protection, then operations may need to be stopped until the air quality improves.
To assist employers, Cal/OSHA maintains a list of vendors who report available supplies of N95 disposable respirators, which is updated regularly.