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Cal/OSHA regulations to prevent smoke-related workplace injuries

Following the massive 2018 wildfires, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health is seeking emergency regulations to protect workers from smoke inhalation. The intention is to limit smoke-related workplace injuries. The special rules will apply to all workers who are exposed to smoke from wildfires.

The rules will not apply to emergency workers and wildfire fighters. Workers in enclosed buildings and vehicles will also be exempt. The rule specifies the Air Quality Index measurements at which the rules become effective, and other requirements include the issue of a wildfire smoke advisory by state, regional, local or federal agencies. Moreover, the possible exposure to wildfire smoke and damage to the health of workers must be realistic.

Employers must have administrative or engineering controls in place, and if those prove to be ineffective, employees must be issued equipment to provide respiratory protection against exposure to harmful smoke. The protective respiratory equipment for the faces of workers must be National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health approved and issued to all exposed workers who are not protected by administrative or engineering controls. The rules will also mandate that employers must provide adequate safety training to ensure workers understand when and how to use protective devices.

While Cal/OSHA currently holds emergency rule-making meetings, employers and employees can start establishing safety standards to prevent smoke-related workplace injuries during this year's wildfire season. Those who suffer harm might find comfort in knowing that the California workers' compensation insurance program will cover their medical expenses and lost wages. Injured workers can utilize the skills of an experienced attorney to ease the benefits claims process.

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