Safety authorities have taken steps to protect workers in California from the hazards of wildfire smoke. This emergency regulation comes at the height of the wildfire season, and it will likely become effective in August and stay in place for one year. The rule serves to prevent smoke-related workplace injuries that are common at this time of the year.
The regulation requires employers to protect workers from exposure to airborne wildfire particulate matter by checking the Air Quality Index at the start of each shift and at frequent intervals throughout the workday. If the AQI for Particular Matter 2.5 is measured at a level of 151 or higher, workers must be relocated to an area with an AQI below that level. If that is not possible, they must be moved to an indoor area where the air is filtered.
In cases in which workers cannot be protected from exposure to harmful levels of wildfire smoke, other measures must be taken. These include providing workers with approved respirators like N95 masks, the use of which is voluntary. The new regulation must be included in the safety training, along with the maintenance and safe use of the respirators. Employers must also inform workers of the health risks posed by wildfire smoke.
Despite the best intentions of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, workers will likely still suffer the consequences of wildfire smoke exposure. The state-regulated workers' compensation system will cover the medical expenses of those employees. An experienced attorney can assist with the claims process, and help them also to obtain benefits to cover lost wages if their workplace injuries caused temporary disability.