July 17, 2018
Authored by: Bryan Keyt and Lauren Vincent
California is currently experiencing record-breaking heat waves and an increased number of active wildfire incidents. California OSHA (CAL OSHA) has determined that this poses a serious threat to the safety of outdoor workers because smoke from wildfires often contains chemicals, gases, and fine particles that are dangerous to human health. Inhaling such particles is particularly dangerous, says CAL OSHA, because it can reduce lung function, worsen asthma and other existing heart and lung conditions, and cause coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.
In response to these concerns, CAL/OSHA recently issued an advisory notice that urges employers with employees exposed to wildfire smoke to take extra precautions as part of their Injury and Illness Prevention Program under Title 8 section 3203 of the California Code of Regulations and as required under section 5141 (Control of Harmful Exposure to Employees). Those precautions include:
- Utilizing engineering controls whenever feasible (for example, using a filtered ventilation system in indoor work areas).
- Using administrative controls if practicable (for example, limiting the time that employees work outdoors).
- Providing workers with respiratory protective equipment (such as disposable filtering face-pieces, like dust masks) in conformance with respiratory protection requirements, as applicable. Some relevant respirator comments made by CAL OSHA in recent guidance include:
- 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 the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH).
- Approved respiratory protective equipment is necessary for employees working in outdoor locations designated by