08Dec 2017

Employers Advised to Protect Workers from SoCal Wildfire Smoke

The large wildfires burning through Southern California are not just affecting those living and working in the immediate area. Smoke is spreading for miles beyond the fire zone, filling the air in many surrounding communities. Are your employees protected?

Wildfire smoke contains chemicals, gases, and fine particles that pose serious risk to human health. People with heart disease, chest pain, or lung diseases like asthma are at particular risk. If your employees don’t have respiratory protection already as part of their job, they will need it to stay safe. In fact, Cal/OSHA is calling on employers in the affected areas to provide this protection.

One  immediate solution is to provide them with a filtering facepiece respirator. These are relatively inexpensive and can be found at hardware and drug stores for purchase. You can also find them online.

Choosing your respirator

You want to make sure respirators have a rating of at least N95 and are approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). You want to make sure your respirators have two straps that wrap around the head. Anything else won’t provide proper protection.

In addition to providing respirators, you can take some other steps to further improve conditions at your workplace.

  • Limit the amount of time your employees work outdoors, and postpone any rigorous activity.
  • Keep the indoor air as clean as possible by turning off air conditioning or heating units that draw in the smoke-polluted air from outside.
  • If air conditioning or heating units are necessary, replace all ventilation unit filters with high-efficiency particulate (HEPA) air filters. (These filters do a good job on air particulates, but are not really effective against gases and odors).
  • If conditions are really bad, you might consider sending your workers home for the day – especially those that live long distances away that would have to drive through the smoky conditions.

With more than 150,000 acres burning in Southern California and very little containment, the smoke will fill the air for several days. Taking precautions now and especially stocking up on the filtering facepiece respirators are important steps to protect your workers.

For more information on how to protect your workers from wildfire smoke, please see these resources:

CDC – Protect Yourself from Wildfire Smoke

California Department of Public Health – Use of Respirators to Protect from Wildfire Smoke or Ash

Cal/OSHA Worker Safety and Health in Wildfire Regions

CDC – How to Properly Put on and Take Off a Disposable Respirator

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