As California continues through this wildfire season, employers should be aware of a new rule imposed by the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (Cal-OSHA). Beginning on July 29, 2019, employers generally must monitor the Air Quality Index (AQI) at the employers’ worksites, and ensure that certain steps are taken when the AQI indicates certain levels of smoke in the air. Exempted from this new rule are those employers whose employees work indoors where there is an air filtration system, firefighters who are engaged in firefighting, and employers whose employees are only exposed to smoke for less than one hour.
Industries which should be especially aware of this new rule to ensure they are compliant are construction, agriculture, landscaping, maintenance, and other primarily outdoor industries. To be compliant, employers who are not exempt must monitor the AQI for fine particulate matter (PM 2.5). If the AQI for PM 2.5 is more than 150, and the employer has a reasonable expectation that its employees will be exposed to smoke from a wildfire, the employer must take steps to reduce exposure. This is possible by relocating the employees to an indoor facility or to another location altogether where air quality is improved.
In some cases, employers must provide respirators for its employees. For example, if the AQI for PM 2.5 is greater than 150, but less than 500, employers must provide respirators to its employees and encourage their use. The employees will not be required to use the respirators at this level. If the AQI for PM 2.5 exceeds 500, however, employees not only will be required to use the respirators, employers must also conduct fit testing and medical evaluations of the employees.
Aside from these direct smoke-related duties of employers, employers must also provide certain trainings to its employees with relation to wildfire smoke. Primarily, employers must create a communication system whereby employees can inform employers the air quality at a location has worsened and precautions should be taken. Employers also must provide training to their employees on this new rule itself, thus making employees aware of the steps to be taken when the air quality declines to certain standards.
As the 2019 fire season continues, employers should be careful to observe this new Cal-OSHA rule both to keep their employees healthy and protected from smoke, and to avoid any smoke-related litigation down the road. If you have any questions about this new rule, contact the attorneys at Navigato & Battin.