Wildfire Smoke - OSHA Guidance

The Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (eg. Cal/OSHA) has adopted emergency regulation to protect workers from hazards associated with wildfire smoke.

Cal/OSHA issued a news release "Cal/OSHA Emergency Regulation to Protect Outdoor Workers from Wildfire Smoke in Effect" on July 30, 2019. The emergency regulation is to be effective for one year and applies to workplaces where the current Air Quality Index (AQI) for Particulate Matter (PM) is 151 or greater, and where employers should reasonably anticipate that employees could be exposed to smoke. Under the new emergency regulation, 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 before each shift and periodically thereafter checking the AQI for PM2.5 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 AQI for PM2.5 is 150 or lower.

  • If employers cannot reduce workers' harmful exposure to wildfire smoke so that the AQI for PM2.5 is 150 or lower, the must provide: a) Respirators such as N95 masks for all employees for voluntary use, b) training on the new regulation, the health effects of wildfire smoke, and the safe use and maintenance of respirators.

  • Employers should be aware that an AQI (as found on airnow.gov etc.) that represents a broad area or county may not represent actual workplace AQI. Site workplace monitors (such as PurpleAir etc.) might provide better local information but could also be problematic given their data unreliability and that they are not regulatory monitors.

    Cal/OSHA will be holding a scoping meeting on August 27, 2019 in Oakland to begin the permanent rulemaking process.
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