HR Hot Topic – Protect Outdoor Workers From Heat Illness, Wildfire Smoke
Cal/OSHA reminds employers to protect outdoor workers from heat illness and exposure to harmful wildfire smoke, and is hosting a webinar and training sessions this week to help employers plan for and prevent these hazards.
“When it comes to preventing heat illness and exposure to harmful wildfire smoke, employers with outdoor workers should not wait to review their procedures and they should ensure their training is effective as soon as possible,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Jeff Killip.
Employers, workers and stakeholders are invited to these Cal/OSHA training sessions:
- The annual Heat Illness Prevention Network webinar on Wednesday, April 27 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
- In-person training sessions with the Nisei Farmers League and other agricultural associations on Friday, April 29 at the C.P.D.E.S. Portuguese Hall, 172 W. Jefferson Avenue in Fresno.
- Spanish training from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
- English training from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Heat Illness Prevention Requirements
Cal/OSHA investigates heat-related incidents and complaints of hazards at outdoor worksites in industries such as agriculture, landscaping and construction. These investigations ensure compliance with the heat illness prevention standard and the injury and illness prevention standard, which require employers with outdoor workers to take these precautions:
- Plan – Develop and implement an effective written heat illness prevention plan that includes emergency response procedures.
- Training – Train all employees and supervisors on heat illness prevention.
- Water – Provide drinking water that is fresh, pure, suitably cool and free of charge so each worker can drink at least 1 quart per hour, and encourage workers to do so.
- Rest – Encourage workers to take a cool-down rest in the shade for at least five minutes when they feel the need to do so to protect themselves from overheating. Workers should not wait until they feel sick to cool down.
- Shade – Provide proper shade when temperatures exceed 80 degrees. Workers have the right to request and be provided shade to cool off at any time.
- Observe – Closely observe all employees during a heat wave and any employee newly assigned to a high heat area. Lighter work, frequent breaks or shorter hours will help employees who have not been working in high temperatures adapt to the new conditions.
Additional information about heat illness prevention, including details on upcoming training sessions throughout the state are posted on Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention page. Cal/OSHA also has extensive multilingual materials for employers, workers and trainers on its Water. Rest. Shade. public awareness campaign website.
Wildfire Smoke Requirements
California’s protection from wildfire smoke standard requires employers to monitor the air quality index for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) before and periodically throughout the work shift when wildfire smoke might affect the worksite. Employers can easily track the air quality index using U.S. EPA’s AirNow, local air quality management district websites, or use their own instruments to measure PM2.5 at a worksite under Cal/OSHA’s requirements.
Workers should be trained on the health effects of wildfire smoke. Smoke from wildfires contains chemicals, gases and fine particles that can harm health. The greatest hazard comes from breathing fine particles in the air (PM2.5), which can reduce lung function, worsen asthma or other existing heart and lung conditions, and cause coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing.
If the AQI for PM2.5 is 151 or greater, employers must take these steps to protect employees:
- Communication – Inform employees of the AQI for PM2.5 and the protective measures available to them.
- Training and Instruction – Provide effective training and instruction to all employees on the information in section 5141.1 Appendix B.
- Modifications – Implement modifications to the workplace, if feasible, to reduce exposure. Examples include providing enclosed structures or vehicles for employees to work in, where the air is filtered.
- Changes – Implement practicable changes to work procedures or schedules. Examples include halting operations or changing the location where employees work or reducing the time they work outdoors or are exposed to unfiltered outdoor air.
- Respiratory protection – Provide proper respiratory protection equipment, such as N95 disposable respirators, and encourage their use.
If the AQI for PM2.5 exceeds 500 due to wildfire smoke, respirator use is required. Employers must ensure employees use respirators and implement a respiratory protection program as required in California’s respiratory standard.
Guidance for employers and workers on wildfire smoke is available on Cal/OSHA’s web page, along with frequently asked questions about N95 masks. Cal/OSHA’s Training Academy offers free resources in English and Spanish.