Cal/OSHA Standards Board recently adopted an emergency regulation to protect outdoor workers from wildfire smoke (§5141.1. Protection from Wildfire Smoke). Pending anticipated approval later this month by the Office of Administrative Law (OAL), employers are required to implement Wildfire Smoke Protection requirements in early August 2019.

The Protection from Wildfire Smoke rule is triggered when the air quality index (AQI) for particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5), in an outdoor work area, equals or exceeds 151; and when the employer should reasonably anticipate employees may be exposed to wildfire smoke. The rule requires employers to:

  1. Move workers indoors to a filtered air environment; or
  2. Relocate workers to an area with an AQI below 151; or
  3. Employers shall provide respirators to employees for voluntary use and encourage employees to use respirators; and provide training on the new regulation, the health effects of wildfire smoke, and the safe use and maintenance of respirators.
  4. Respiratory protection is mandatory when the AQI exceeds 500.

Employers must determine outdoor employee exposure to PM2.5 before each shift and periodically monitor thereafter, as needed. The rule allows employers to forecast and determine AQI for PM2.5 from any of the following means:

  1. U.S. EPA AirNow; or
  2. U.S. Forest Service Wildland Air Quality Response Program; or
  3. California Air Resources Board; or
  4. Local air pollution control district website; or
  5. Local air quality management district website; or
  6. Obtain AQI information directly from the aforementioned sources via telephone, email, text, or other effective method; or
  7. Utilize a direct read device to measure PM2.5 levels at the worksite and convert the PM2.5 levels to the corresponding AQI in accordance with Appendix A.

Employers shall establish effective two-way communication with outdoor workers for the purpose of receiving and disseminating AQI and wildfire smoke information.

Employers must provide workers effective training and instruction, and at a minimum, said training and instruction shall contain information found in Appendix B.

The following workplaces and operations are exempt from §5141.1. Protection from Wildfire Smoke:

  1. Enclosed buildings or structures in which the air is filtered by a mechanical ventilation system.
  2. Enclosed vehicles in which the air is filtered by a cabin air filter.
  3. The employer demonstrates that the concentration of PM2.5 in the air does not exceed a concentration that corresponds to a current AQI of 151 or greater by measuring PM2.5 levels at the worksite in accordance with Appendix A.
  4. Employees exposed to a current AQI for PM2.5 of 151 or greater for a total of one hour or less during a shift.
  5. Firefighters engaged in wildland firefighting.

Cal/OSHA will commence the standard rulemaking process for a permanent Wildfire Smoke Protection regulation at its August 27, 2019 Advisory Committee Meeting in Oakland, California.

For more information regarding Emergency Protection from Wildfire Smoke please contact the EIA Risk Control Department at 916-850-7300.