Cal/OSHA Issues Advisory for Worker Safety in Wildfire Regions

Oakland—Cal/OSHA is advising employers that special precautions must be taken to protect workers from hazards from wildfire smoke.

Smoke from wildfires contains chemicals, gases, and fine particles that can harm health. 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.

Guidance for employers and workers on working safely in conditions with heavy smoke caused by the wildfires is available on Cal/OSHA’s web page, including frequently asked questions about N95 masks for employers and workers.

Employers with operations exposed to wildfire smoke must consider taking appropriate measures 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 measures include:

  • Engineering controls whenever feasible (for example, using a filtered ventilation system in indoor work areas)
  • Administrative controls if practicable (for example, limiting the time that employees work outdoors)
  • Providing workers with respiratory protective equipment, such as disposable filtering facepieces (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 the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
    • Approved respiratory protective equipment is necessary for employees working in outdoor locations designated by local air quality management districts as “Unhealthy”, “Very Unhealthy” or “Hazardous”.
      • It takes more effort to breathe through a respirator and it can increase the risk of heat stress. Frequent breaks are advised. Workers feeling dizzy, faint or nauseated are advised to go to a clean area, remove the respirator and seek medical attention.
      • Respirators should be discarded if they become difficult to breathe through or if the inside becomes dirty. A new respirator should be used each day.

Firefighters in Northern California have made progress on a stubborn blaze west of Sacramento, officials said today, allowing some residents to return to their homes after they were evacuated.

In Colorado, meanwhile, firefighters were still battling eight major blazes that have burned over 140,000 acres and destroyed more than 100 homes, while authorities have arrested a person suspected of starting the largest blaze in that drought-stricken state.

The Northern California fire “burned throughout the night with little recovery from the relative humidity,” the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said in a statement. “The weather will become hotter and drier into the weekend and fire growth potential remains high.”

The so-called County Fire had consumed 86,000 acres (35,000 hectares) of grass, brush and dense scrub oak as of early Thursday, Cal Fire said.