Cal/OSHA – Rulemaking Protecting Outdoor Workers from Wildfire Smoke


CAL/OSHA is developing rules that would require employers of outdoor workers to provide respiratory equipment when air quality is affected by wildfires. Smoke from wildfires can travel hundreds of miles and while an area may not be in danger of the wildfire, the smoke can be thick and dangerous, reaching unhealthy levels. Many employers want to hand out respirators to outside workers, but regulations governing the use of ventilators can be burdensome.

The California Code of Regulations, Title 8, Section 5144 requires employers that distribute respirators to implement a written respiratory protection program, require seal-testing before every use and conduct medical evaluations prior to use.

What to expect:
The regs are still in draft form and are unlikely to be completed this summer for the upcoming fire season.
But here is what you can expect:
The draft of the regulations would require that employers take action when the Air Quality Index (AQI) for particulate matter 2.5 is more than 150, which is considered in the “unhealthy” range. The protections would also be triggered when a government agency issues a wildfire smoke advisory or when there is a “realistic possibility” that workers would be exposed to wildfire smoke.

All California employers with “a worker who is outdoors for more than an hour cumulative over the course of their shift” would be required to comply with these regulations:
• Checking AQI forecasts when employees may reasonably be expected to be exposed to an AQI of more than 150.
• Establishing a system of communication to inform employees about AQI levels and changes in conditions that can lead to bad air quality, and about protective measures.
• Training workers in the steps they would have to take if the AQI breaches 150.

The regulations are pending with the Cal/OSHA Standards Board, which is expected to vote on them in July.  For now, if you do have outside employees who are confronted with working in smoky conditions, you should start stockpiling a two-week supply of N95 masks for all of your workers.