California businesses have to provide smoke protection to employees

An Wildfire Smoke Regulation that was passed in California as an emergency regulation and took effect on July 30, 2019, is scheduled to become permanent on January 28, 2020. The idea is to protect workers who are having to labor in a smoky environment caused by wildfires.

California employers should familiarize themselves with these requirements to avoid future litigation. You may have to invest in respirators, especially for any employees who have to work outdoors, having them on-hand in case the smog level soars due to wildfire smoke.

According to the new regulation:

Employers shall allow employees who show signs of injury or illness due to wildfire smoke exposure to seek medical treatment, and may not punish affected employees for seeking such treatment. Employers shall also have effective provisions made in advance for prompt medical treatment of employees in the event of serious injury or illness caused by wildfire smoke exposure.

In addition, the regulation sets procedures in place for when the wildfire-induced pollution level gets to 151 or higher:

If employees may be exposed to wildfire smoke, then the employer is required to find out the current AQI applicable to the worksite. If the current AQI for PM2.5 is 151 or more, the employer is required to:
(1) Check the current AQI before and periodically during each shift.
(2) Provide training to employees.
(3) Lower employee exposures.
(4) Provide respirators and encourage their use.
The regulation also states the methods an employer should adopt to prevent risk of wildfire smoke exposure:
Employers shall take action to protect employees from PM2.5 when the current AQI for PM2.5 is 151 or greater. Examples of protective methods include:
(1) Locating work in enclosed structures or vehicles where the air is filtered.
(2) Changing procedures such as moving workers to a place with a lower current AQI for PM2.5.
(3) Reducing work time in areas with unfiltered air.
(4) Increasing rest time and frequency, and providing a rest area with filtered air.
(5) Reducing the physical intensity of the work to help lower the breathing and heart rates.
Read the full regulation, including direction on respirator rating and usage, at DIR.gov website.
The law firm Ogletree Deakins PC notes that some of the details are still in discussion, so there may be some changes before it’s finalize for January 2020:
The regulation is likely to undergo further revision. On August 27, 2019, California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH or Cal/OSHA) held an advisory meeting “seeking input on the development of a permanent regulation for the protection of employees.” Cal/OSHA proposed lowering the voluntary and mandatory AQI thresholds from 151 to 101 and from 501 to 301, respectively. Another proposal is the required use of filters in buildings and vehicles that meet a certain Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value.
Read the full article at ogletree.com

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