Are You Prepared? FAQs On Cal/OSHA's Emergency Wildfire Smoke Protection Regulation

Author:Mr Chad Greeson and Alka Ramchandani-Raj
Profession:Littler Mendelson

In response to the dangerous levels of air quality last fall after the wildfires in Northern and Southern California, the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) has enacted an emergency regulation addressing hazardous wildfire smoke exposure. In addition, at its last advisory committee meeting, Cal/OSHA discussed multiple possibilities for a permanent regulation. The agency expects to present a 2.0 version of the regulation, which would go into effect after the emergency regulation expires in January 2020, followed by a subsequent version to be released sometime in the future. Employers should stay up to date on these developments as Cal/OSHA's requirements are becoming more stringent with each iteration.

For now, employers should come into compliance with the emergency regulation, if they have not already done so. Some common questions and answers concerning the emergency regulation are listed below.

Is the new regulation limited to outdoor workers only? No. The regulation also applies to indoor workers who work: (a) in an enclosed building or structure without air filtered by a mechanical ventilation system; (b) in an enclosed vehicle without air filtered by a cabin air filter; or (c) in an enclosed building, structure, or vehicle where the employer does not ensure that windows, doors, bays, or other openings are kept closed to minimize contamination by outdoor or unfiltered air.

If we anticipate exposure to wildfire smoke, and we check the Air Quality Index (AQI) PM2.5 level before the start of every shift, is that sufficient? No. Employers must determine potential employee exposure to PM2.51 at the beginning of each shift and periodically thereafter.

We have sensors at our workplace that detect AQI PM2.5 levels from .5 to 2.5 micrometers. Is this sufficient under the regulation? No. An employer can use a direct-reading particulate matter monitor to determine PM2.5 levels, but the monitor must be capable of measuring the concentration of airborne particle sizes ranging from an aerodynamic diameter of 0.1 micrometers up to and including 2.5 micrometers.

Our business has a main office, but our employees work remotely and their locations vary by job on a daily basis. Can I just monitor AQI levels at the main office as a reasonable average? No, employers must measure AQI PM2.5 levels at the worksite where work is being performed. However, employers do not need to monitor telecommuting employees who only work from...

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