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As Wildfires Burn in CA, New Law for Some Employers is Proposed

As wildfire season progresses in California, employers must comply with Cal/OSHA's wildfire smoke protection regulation to safeguard employees from hazardous smoke exposure. The regulation applies when the Air Quality Index (AQI) for PM2.5 reaches 151 or higher, and exposure to wildfire smoke is anticipated. Click here for article.

  • Regulation Overview: Cal/OSHA's wildfire smoke protection regulation mandates various levels of exposure control (engineering, administrative, and PPE) based on AQI levels. When AQI for PM2.5 is 151 or higher but not exceeding 500, respirators like N95 masks must be provided for voluntary use. If AQI exceeds 500, respirators must be used by all exposed employees and in compliance with respiratory protection standards.

  • Applicability: The regulation covers outdoor workers for over one hour each shift when AQI is at or above 151, with exceptions. It also extends to indoor employees not working in enclosed, filtered buildings with closed doors and windows.

  • Proposed Legislation: Assembly Bill 73, the Farmworker Wildfire Smoke Protections Act, aims to enhance protections for agricultural workers. It designates them as "essential workers," granting access to N95 masks from the California Department of Public Health's stockpile. The Act mandates Cal/OSHA to develop and distribute training materials in English and Spanish, along with requiring periodic wildfire smoke training for agricultural employees.

  • Recent Changes: Originally, the Act proposed sending Cal/OSHA wildfire strike teams to investigate agricultural work sites during dangerous air quality levels, but this provision was removed. The bill, unanimously passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee, acknowledges the strain on Cal/OSHA enforcement.

  • Future Expectations: With wildfires remaining a recurring challenge, new regulations in wildfire smoke protection are anticipated. Employers should stay informed and consult legal experts for guidance on compliance and responsibilities.

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