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Restaurants damaged as fires rage in Northern California Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Cal/OSHA Enacts Emergency Regulation Concerning Wildfire Smoke

Workplaces must protect workers against wildfire smoke exposure.

An emergency regulation set forth by state-run Cal/OSHA has been enacted to protect workers from the dangers of wildfires.

Employers are now required to take steps to identify and reduce exposure for workers exposed to wildfires.

The new regulation applies to workplaces where 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 suspectible.

Effective through January 28, 2020 with two possible 90-day extensions, a California employer not must take the following steps:

  • 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:

  • Respirators such as N95 masks to all employees for voluntary use and
  • Training on the new regulation, the health effects of wildfire smoke, and the safe use and maintenance of respirators.     

Cal/OSHA will 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 the agency's website.

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