California currently has fires burning in all but one county. Employers who were already tapped on complying with employment laws need to now deal with wildfire compliance. In 2019, California passed a new regulation, which applies to workplaces where the AQI for PM 2.5 is 151 or greater and where employers should reasonably anticipate that employees may be exposed to wildfire smoke.
Under the new rule, employers must take the following steps to protect workers who may be exposed to wildfire smoke:
- Check the AQI for PM 2.5 before each shift, and periodically thereafter, as needed to protect the health of the employee, to determine if it is at or above 151; and
- Reduce harmful exposure to wildfire smoke if feasible—for example, by relocating work to an enclosed building with filtered air or 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 to all employees for voluntary use, and
- Provide training on the new regulation, the health effects of wildfire smoke, and the safe use and maintenance of respirators.
The new rule also requires the employer to establish and implement a system for communicating wildfire smoke hazards in an understandable form that is designed to encourage employees to inform the employer of wildfire smoke hazards at the worksite without fear of reprisal. The communication system shall include effective procedures for:
- Informing employees of the current AQI for PM 2.5;
- Informing employees of protective measures to reduce their exposure to wildfire smoke; and
- Encouraging employees to inform the employer of worsening air quality, as well as any adverse symptoms that may be the result of wildfire smoke exposure, such as asthma attacks, difficulty breathing, and chest pain.
The following workplaces and ohttps://www.berliner.com/professionals/christine-h-longperations are exempt from the emergency regulation:
- Enclosed buildings or structures in which the air is filtered by a mechanical ventilation system and the employer ensures that windows, doors, bays, and other openings are kept closed to minimize contamination by outdoor or unfiltered air.
- Enclosed vehicles in which the air is filtered by a cabin air filter and the employer ensures that windows doors and other openings are kept closed to minimize contamination by outdoor or unfiltered air.
- Employees exposed to a current AQI for PM2.5 of 151 or greater for a total of one hour or less during a shift.
- Firefighters engaged in wildfire fighting
While this isn’t an issue for remote workers, employers open for business need to be mindful of this regulation.
For additional questions about this or other Labor & Employment questions, contact Christine H. Long, head of Berliner Cohen's Labor & Employment Law Department.