The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health recently enacted emergency wildfire smoke regulations. Along with all the threats of workplace injuries wildfires pose, the health damage caused by wildfire smoke can have long-term consequences. Although the regulations apply where the Air Quality Index for airborne particulate matter is 151 or higher, employers with workers in areas with reasonable chances of exposure to wildfire smoke must also comply.
Employers must measure the AQI before each shift starts, and at frequent intervals throughout the shift. If feasible, exposure to harmful wildfire smoke must be limited by relocating workers to buildings with air-filtering equipment or to outdoor areas where the AQI is safe. If these measures are not possible, employers must provide approved respirators.
Although the use of the respirators is voluntary, employees must receive training to explain the new regulation, and the potential health damage wildfire smoke can cause. Workers must be instructed in the correct use of respirators, along with the proper maintenance procedures. The enacted regulation will be in effect until Jan. 28, 2020, and there might be two 90-day extensions.
Even with the new regulation in place, workers could suffer unanticipated exposure to wildfire smoke. Those who suffer adverse consequences must seek immediate medical care. Like any other workplace injuries, doctors bills for treatment of wildfire smoke exposure will be covered by the California workers' compensation insurance program. Legal counsel can assist with the benefits claims process. The compensation for workers who were temporarily disabled typically includes benefits to cover a percentage of lost wages.