The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board has extended the emergency regulation to protect workers from the hazards associated with wildfire smoke. This extension went into effect on June 23, 2020.
Smoke and particulate matter from wildfires can travel hundreds of miles and affect the health of people far from the fire’s path.
Although there are many hazardous chemicals in wildfire smoke, the main harmful pollutant for people who are not very close to the fire is “particulate matter,” the tiny particles suspended in the air. Particulate matter can irritate the lungs and cause persistent coughing, wheezing, or difficulty breathing. Particulate matter can also cause more serious problems, such as reduced lung function, bronchitis, worsening of asthma, and heart disease.
When does this apply?
This regulation, Title 8, Section 5141.1 , applies to workplaces where the current Air Quality Index (AQI) for airborne particulate matter (PM2.5) is 151 or greater and where employers should reasonably anticipate that employees could be exposed to wildfire smoke. Although there are AQIs for several pollutants, the wildfire smoke regulation, Title 8 section 5141.1, only uses the AQI for PM2.5 because it is so small.
The following workplaces and operations are exempt from the regulation:
• Enclosed buildings or structures where the air is filtered by a mechanical ventilation system
• Enclosed vehicles where the air is filtered by a cabin air filter
• Your agency demonstrates the air does not reach the unhealthy levels of PM2.5 through measurements
• Employees are exposed to a current AQI for PM2.5 of 151 or greater for a total of one hour or less during a shift
• Firefighters engaged in wildland firefighting
How to find and determine the AQI
The easiest way to find the current and forecasted AQI for unhealthy levels of PM2.5 is to go to http://www.airnow.gov/ and enter the zip code of the location where workers will be.
Also, the EPA can transmit daily and forecasted AQIs by text or email for particular cities or zip codes. Go to www.enviroflash.info for more information.
What do you need to do?
• How employees can obtain the current AQI for PM2.5
• The requirements in Title 8 section 5141.1 about wildfire smoke
• The agency’s two-way communication system
• The agency’s methods to protect employees from wildfire smoke
• The importance, limitations, and benefits of using a respirator when exposed to wildfire smoke
• How to properly put on, use, and maintain the respirators provided by the employer