While a variety of federal and state rules and regulations exist to protect workers’ health, wildfire risk typically isn’t included in these protections. This is about to change in both Washington and Oregon, where state leaders recently expanded existing regulations and adopted new ones to protect workers from wildfire smoke and heat exposure. Both states are now following the lead of California, which made wildfire smoke exposure rules permanent last year.
Climatologists and fire experts have noted that large wildfires have been increasing across the western United States in the last decade and are expected to become more frequent, which puts the onus on employers in the region to ensure workers are safe.
In Washington State, new rules went into effect in June of this year that mandate that employers establish and implement a system related to air quality with a particular view toward wildfire smoke. Employers must measure the quality index (AQI) and take specific action when workers are exposed to AQI levels of 69 or higher, with additional requirements imposed when AQI is 101 to 500 and 500 or higher. For workers exposed to poor air quality, protective gear must be provided.
The employer is required to communicate wildfire smoke hazards in a form readily understandable by all affected employees, including provisions designed to encourage employees to inform the employer of wildfire smoke hazards at the worksite without fear of reprisal. In addition, the Washington rules mandate that employers monitor employees who are displaying adverse symptoms of wildfire smoke exposure to determine whether medical attention is necessary and allow employees who show signs of injury or illness due to wildfire smoke exposure to seek medical treatment without fear of retaliation by the employer.
Just south of Washington, Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Oregon OSHA) recently announced that it has adopted new rules for exposure to wildfire smoke effective July 1, 2022. The wildfire smoke rule requires employers to take certain safety measures if employees are exposed or will be exposed to wildfire smoke where the ambient air concentration for fine particulate matter is at or above an AQI value of 101. The adopted rules require employers to perform an exposure assessment; provide information to employers and management staff; create and maintain training and documentation; provide for employer two-way communication with employees; and implement methods of exposure control.
The Oregon rules, as adopted, require employers to make NIOSH-approved respirators available for voluntary use when the AQI is at or above 101. Whenever employee exposure is at or above AQI 251, employers must ensure that employees wear NIOSH-approved respirators.
Consult with a Professional Workplace Safety Organization
To comply with the complex regulations and avoid fines for noncompliance, Western state employers are encouraged to consult with a knowledgeable agent that can help them build a program that would prevent employee exposure to unsafe air quality related to wildfires.
Unishield has been providing businesses throughout Southern California with the highest quality safety training and compliance solutions for employers as well as a library of video tapes and related training manuals. In addition, Unishield offers first aid kits and medical supplies, first aid restocking services, industrial safety equipment, and portable emergency medical equipment such as the lifesaving AED (automatic external defibrillator). Call 800-480-5855 or visit our website for more information.