Cal/OSHA’s Emergency Standard on Wildfire Smoke

The Cal/OSHA Standards Board will hear and vote at its July meeting on whether to adopt the emergency standard for worker protection from wildfire smoke.  The emergency filing will be to adopt a new section in Title 8 under section 5141.1.  The Standards Board provided a lengthy description for the basis for this standard stating, “wildfires in California became dramatically worse in 2018, causing deaths and economic damage that dwarfed previous years.  The catastrophic Camp Fire was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in state history, killing 86 people and destroying 18,804 structures.”  They also cited Governor Newsom’s Executive Order from January 2019 which states, “the reality of climate change, persistent drought, warmer temperatures and more severe winds – has created conditions that will lead to more frequent and destructive wildfires.”

The emergency standard applies to workplaces where the Air Quality Index (AQI) is 151 or greater, regardless of the AQI for other pollutants.  Exemption to the standard applies to:

  • Enclosed buildings which have mechanical ventilation and can ensure openings to the outdoors can be kept closed,
  • Vehicles with filtered air to the cab,
  • Employers who can demonstrate that the concentration of PM2.5 (particles of diameter 2.5 microns) in the workplace air remains below an AQI of 151, (a table is provided in the standard to convert PM2.5 concentration in micrograms per cubic meter to AQI)
  • Employees exposed to PM2.5 of 151 (or greater) for no more than 1 hour, and
  • Firefighters fighting wildland fires.

Employers are required to determine employee exposure to airborne PM2.5 before each shift and periodically thereafter by checking AQI forecasts or measuring PM2.5 levels.

The standard sets forth specific requirements for communicating the hazards to affected employees and for training.  Lengthy appendices are included in the emergency standard covering such topics as training, and PM2.5 sampling.   Use of administrative controls are listed in the emergency standard, which includes relocating employees to an area where the AQI is lower as well as the use of respiratory protection.

This version of the standard is significantly different than the prior drafts.  We anticipate the Standards Board will approve this version of the emergency standard and will continue to move forward on a final standard. The Cohen Group can assist affected employers with the determination of PM2.5 in their workplace and compliance with the training requirements.