Author, Drew Garcia, Vice President, Landscape Group, Rancho Mesa Insurance Services, Inc.
Author, Steve Hamilton, Loss Control Supervisor, Berkshire Hathaway Homestate Companies.
On Thursday, July 17 2019, the California Occupational Safety & Health Standards Board voted to adopt an emergency standard requiring employers to take action when air quality particulate matter measures greater than 150 and when there is reasonable expectation that employees will come in to contact with wildfire smoke.
While this may seem new to many employers, it is technically an extension of regulations currently in place including the respiratory protection standards for employees and the need to address identified hazards in the workplace. As an employer it is critical that you follow the hierarchy of controls to ensure your employees’ safety in the field. If possible, eliminate the hazard by shutting down the workforce for the day. Employees should remain indoors until particulate levels fall to acceptable. If this is not possible, try to limit the workday by rotating employees who must work outdoors, remaining cognizant of the hazards in the air and allowing employee’s time to recover in appropriate indoor areas. If neither of these options are possible, consider providing N95 respiratory protection masks.
Please remember that any type of respiratory protection provided to employees must also be accompanied by applicable training, pulmonary exams, communication on proper usage/storage and others. Links to the applicable programs can be found at this address along with sites to help you monitor air quality: https://www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/Worker-Health-and-Safety-in-Wildfire-Regions.html
This site has additional training resources in English and Spanish, handouts on proper usage of N95 masks and the history of the standard as it has been submitted. Cal/OSHA wants you to have the resources you need to effectively address the risk potential.
At this point, the regulation is on its way to the Office of Administrative Law for approval and if deemed compliant, it will go into effect 10 days after it is received. This would mean the regulation could go into effect before August.
An advisory committee will meet August 27, 2019 to begin work on a permanent version of the regulation.
If you have any questions about ways to enhance regulatory compliance, please reach out to your local resources including your insurance agent, workers’ compensation insurance safety professionals, and Cal/OSHA Consultation.