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The California Department of Industrial Relations’ Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board adopted an emergency regulation on Thursday to protect workers from the hazards associated with wildfire smoke, and employers will have just weeks to comply.
The emergency regulation is expected to take effect in early August for a one-year period, and applies to workplaces where unhealthy air from wildfire smoke is anything rated greater than 150 on the air quality index for particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, and where employers can reasonably anticipate that employees could be exposed to wildfire smoke.
Under the new regulation, employers will be required to identify harmful exposure to airborne particulate matter caused by wildfire smoke before shifts and periodically check in regions where workers are located, and take steps, if feasible to reduce employee exposure by relocating work to an enclosed building or an outdoor location where the particulate matter in the air is 150 or lower. If the employer is unable to mitigate the exposure and particulate matter is above the threshold, an employer must provide respirators such as N95 masks to all workers for voluntary use, and provide training on the new regulation and use and maintenance of the respirators, said the department in a release.
The standards board initiated the emergency rulemaking process in December 2018 after receiving requests from workers affected by last fall’s wildfires. The first regulation was proposed in April, but after Cal/OSHA received more than 40 comments from stakeholders, the agency rescinded some of the proposed standards in July including the requirement of providing N95 masks for any employees exposed to the outdoors.
The standards board will file the regulation Friday with the Office of Administrative Law, which has 10 working days to review and approve it as a new workplace safety standard enforced by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health of California.
Insured losses to homes and businesses from the November 2018 Camp, Woolsey and Hill wildfires have increased by $614 million in the first three months of the year, pushing total claims to just over $12 billion as of April, according to California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara.