Worker Safety and Health in Wildfire Regions

Source: Aleksandr Prokopenko - 123RF

Crews are battling a new wildfire that exploded overnight in Ventura County, northwest of Los Angeles.

The so-called Maria Fire grew to over 8,000 acres in just a few hours, with zero containment. It’s one of many wildfires in California during a period of dangerous fire conditions.

Wildfire smoke and cleanup presents hazards that employers and workers in affected regions must understand.

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

Hazards continue even after fires have been extinguished and cleanup work begins. Proper protective equipment and training is required for worker safety in wildfire regions.

Power outages can also present electrical and other hazards for workers. Proper installation and use of generators can prevent electrocution hazards.

Workers must also be aware of the potential of electrocution or being injured by moving parts of machinery and other equipment when power is restored.

Workers can also face health hazards from working without electricity in unventilated areas because ventilation systems are not working.

Cal/OSHA has an emergency regulation (section 5141.1) to protect employees exposed to wildfire smoke.

The regulation requires the following:

  • Identification of harmful exposures;
  • Communication;
  • Training and instruction;
  • Control of harmful exposures; and
  • Specific particulate sampling requirements if an employer opts to monitor employee exposure with a direct reading instrument.

Smoke is affecting outdoor workers. Ask your employer to provide you with a NIOSH-approved filtering facepiece respirator to protect against the hazards of wildfire smoke.

It is very hazardous for you to work in that situation without breathing protection.

The California Dept of Industrial Relations (DIR) lists employer/employee questions and answers regarding the wildfires and the hazards they present.