Cal/OSHA: Wildfire Smoke Creates Hazards for Workers

Oct. 17, 2017
Employers must take special precautions to protect workers from heavy smoke.

More than 100,000 acres of Northern California forest is on fire, and 40 people have died, according to news reports.

Because of the increased risk of exposure to wildfire smoke, state-run Cal/OSHA has released special guidance for employers.

Smoke from wildfires contains chemicals, gases and fine particles that can harm health, the agency cautioned. The greatest hazard comes from breathing fine particles, which can reduce lung function, worsen asthma and other existing heart and lung conditions and cause coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing.

One recommended measure includes using engineering controls such as a filtered ventilation system in indoor work areas.

Workers in outdoor areas should be limited to the amount of time they are outside, and employers should provide them with proper respiratory equipment such as dust masks.

To filter out fine particles, respirators must be labeled N-95, N-99, N-100, R-95, P-95, P-99, or P-100, and must be labeled approved by NIOSH, according to Cal/OSHA.

Approved respiratory protective equipment is necessary for employees working in outdoor locations designated by local air quality management districts as "Very Unhealthy," "Unhealthy" or "Hazardous."

Because breathing through a respirator can increase the risk of heat stress, Cal/OSHA recommends workers take frequent breaks. Medical attention should be sought if a worker begins to feel dizzy, faint or nauseous. Lastly, respirators should be discarded if they become difficult to breathe through or if the inside becomes dirty.

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