Seyfarth Synopsis: Cal/OSHA’s new emergency regulation for workers exposed to wildfire smoke creates new obligations for many employers.

An emergency regulation on Protection from Wildfire Smoke applies to outdoor workers and to workers in semi-indoor places. Examples include day laborers, agricultural workers, landscapers, construction workers, and sanitation workers. Requirements (described below) 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 covered by the emergency regulation 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 by, for example, 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.

The regulation will be effective through January 28, 2020, with two possible 90-day extensions. Cal/OSHA plans to convene an advisory committee in Oakland on August 27 to establish a permanent regulation using the regular rulemaking process. Meeting details and documents are posted on Cal/OSHA’s website.