Ensure Your Workforce is Protected Against Wildfire Smoke
With the summer heat comes dryness, drought and an increased risk for wildfires. In July 2019, Cal/OSHA enacted code Section 5141.1. This act requires California employers to protect employees performing outdoor work from the potential harm brought upon by wildfire smoke.
Employers who have staff working outdoors should routinely check the Air Quality Index (AQI) for the jobsite and take steps to protect workers when the AQI for PM2.5 reaches or exceeds 151.
Depending on the AQI levels, they may need to provide NIOSH-approved respirators, such as N95 masks, to all employees.
For example, if a large fire was present in the immediate area of an outdoor work crew, where the AQI for airborne particulate matter PM2.5 is 151 or greater, the employer should implement control measures until levels are at or below 150.
Control measures include but are not limited to:
- Providing N95 masks
- Moving work indoors if possible
- Relocating to where the AQI for PM2.5 is at or below 150
If the AQI for PM 2.5 level reaches 500, employees need to be fit tested and medically evaluated — and are required to wear the N95 mask. A level of 500 is uncommon unless you are close to wildfire.
- Set up an email alert via a state or local air quality monitoring site, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Now or the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s Current Air Quality Data.
- Employers should have enough N95 respirators in advance to cover more than one shift. Should a wildfire arise, supply could become an issue.
- Set up an internal policy and train supervisors on how to monitor the AQI and what to do if the PM2.5 levels trigger compliance requirements.
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