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California is preparing for another potentially disastrous wildfire season, and the controls and personal protective equipment that employers may be required to provide has been hotly debated in recent months.
In April, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health of California proposed an emergency regulation to protect workers from wildfire smoke, but after stakeholders submitted more than 40 comments, Cal/OSHA rescinded some of its proposed requirements by reducing the air quality index threshold at which employers must take action and not mandating employers provide personal protective equipment for workers who spend only brief periods outdoors.
One of the biggest concerns about the proposed regulation was the requirement of providing N95 masks for any employees exposed to the outdoors, said Trever Neuroth, an associate in the Washington, D.C. office of Jackson Lewis P.C. Without the change, universities and large corporate campuses with employees traversing between buildings outdoors would have had to provide masks for those workers, which he called “really burdensome.”
The retail cost of the masks is about $12 each and they filter about 95% of small airborne particles, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The rule could take effect as early as July.
Natural catastrophes can cause significant disruptions in the workers compensation sector ranging from interrupting medical care and payments for injured workers to displacing the employees at insurers and third-party administrators charged with handling their cases to triggering an uptick in claims from first responders after events.