Wildfire “season” in California is virtually year round now.

In a new wildfire smoke rule for “outside workers,” the state Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (Cal/OSHA) adopted an “emergency” regulation, July 18th, changing the outdoor smoke rules in wildfire areas, saying: “Employers must quickly adopt the new requirements in early August!” The statement carries the unspoken “or else” warning that we are used to when dealing with new state rules. The smoke rule, is nested in California ‘Chapter 4, Subchapter 7, New Section 5141.1 “Protection from Wildfire Smoke’.” The complete, Board-approved text is available at: https://www.dir.ca.gov/

The emergency regulation will be effective for one year. It applies to workplaces where the current Air Quality Index (AQI) for airborne particulate matter (PM) is 151 or greater, and where employers should “reasonably anticipate” employee exposure to wildfire smoke. Under the new regulation, employers must take the following steps to protect workers:

  • Identify harmful exposure to airborne particulate matter from wildfire smoke before each shift and periodically after that by checking the AQI for PM 2.5 in regions where workers are, with the local air district or by using your direct-reading particulate monitor (costs between $920-$3,605). 
  • Reduce harmful exposure to wildfire smoke if feasible, for example, by relocating work to an enclosed building with filtered air or to an outdoor location where the AQI for PM 2.5 is 150 or lower. 
  • If employers cannot reduce workers’ harmful exposure to wildfire smoke so that the AQI for PM 2.5 is 150 or lower, they must provide: 
  • Respirators such as N95 masks: https://www.dir.ca.gov/ to all employees for “voluntary” (that is an important word) use.
  • Provide training on new regulations, health effects of wildfire smoke, and the safe use and maintenance of respirators.

There will be a “regular rulemaking process” to adopt permanent regulations with a review of the emergency regulation’s performance. If there are portions of the new rule that are either impractical or impossible in your judgment, contact the ECA Government Affairs Committee so we can help with the changes needed. The emergency regulation will remain in effect during that process. Meeting details and documents will be posted on www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/DoshReg/advisory_committee.html 

I am eager for the opportunity to serve as Executive Director for ECA, a highly respected association that plays such an important role in advancing the interests of the construction industry in Southern California. I look forward to working with our board, members, and partners to explore new opportunities and help grow the association to its fullest potential. 

By Ray Baca, Executive Director Email: [email protected]