From June through September, people of all walks of life in California are affected by the annual wildfire season. Work-related hazards during this time threaten more than those fighting the fires. This year, with many people working at home, even more employees risk the adverse effects of wildfire smoke.
What are wildfires?
Wildfires are uncontrolled fires that destroy rural areas and wildlands, making this period the most challenging of the year. Uncontrollable wildfires that burn near communities could have disastrous consequences. Employers are responsible for employee safety, and a part of that is to help employees protect themselves against smoke and other wildfire-related dangers.
Wildfire smoke hazards
It is crucial to be prepared because circumstances could require immediate evacuations. Stay informed about the locations of new fires and the statuses of existing fires. Wildfire smoke contains fine particles, gases and chemicals that could cause severe health problems if inhaled. The devastation caused during the 2016, 2017 and 2018 wildfire seasons gave rise to new regulations.
The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health adopted updated emergency regulations, which became effective earlier this year. Employers with workers outdoors must measure and monitor the Air Quality Index for particulate matter 2.5. Based on that information, employers will know when to relocate outdoor workers indoors, and when that is not possible, they must equip employees with approved respirators. Cal/OSHA further requires employers to establish evacuation plans and practice them frequently to ensure no delays in emergencies.
California workers exposed to wildfire hazards while at work might be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. The state-regulated workers’ compensation system is a no-fault program that pays benefits regardless of who was at fault. Approved claims typically cover medical expenses and lost wages.