Seyfarth Synopsis: CalOSHA emergency regulation for workers exposed to wildfire smoke..

With wildfires now active in many parts of California, it’s important that employers in California remember Cal/OSHA’s emergency regulation, Protection from Wildfire Smoke, Section 5141.1, that applies to outdoor workers and workers in semi-indoor places. Think day laborers, like agricultural workers, landscapers, construction workers, sanitation workers, etc. Requirements kick in when the current Air Quality Index (AQI) for airborne particulate matter (PM 2.5) is 151 or greater, and where employers should reasonably anticipate that employees could be exposed to wildfire smoke.

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 at the start of 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:
  1. Respirators such as N95 masks to all employees for voluntary use, and
  2. Training on the new regulation, the health effects of wildfire smoke, and the safe use and maintenance of respirators.
  • Establish and implement a system for communicating wildfire smoke hazards with employees, and ensuring that employees may report such hazards without fear of reprisal.

The regulation will be effective through January 28, 2020, with two possible 90-day extensions. Cal/OSHA held an advisory meeting earlier this year seeking input on the development of a permanent regulation. Meeting details and documents are posted on Cal/OSHA’s website.