With fire season on the horizon, employers should prepare now to be in compliance with wildfire smoke regulations. Bryan Little, director of employment policy for the California Farm Bureau Federation and chief operating officer for the Farm Employers Labor Service, highlighted the things agricultural employers will need to do to get ready for the coming fire season.
“Make sure you’ve done the required training under the regulation, which is not particularly complicated. You need to educate people about the potential negative health effects of being exposed to PM 2.5, which is what’s regulated under the standard,” Little explained. He added that training should include why wildfire smoke is problematic and what workers can do to protect themselves, particularly using an N95 respirator, which should be made available for employees to use on a voluntary basis.
Over the past several years, California has experienced at least one wildfire which created air-quality conditions which would have required employers to provide N95 respirator masks to workers under the new rule. When the requirement to provide respirators first went into effect, there was already concern about the availability of N95 respirators on the scale that would be required by the agriculture industry. Little noted that employers would be best served by stocking up when supplies are available.
“You might be able to get them at the farm supply store now, but when the fire happens, they might be out. Amazon’s not going to be able to get you 500 respirators in two days when the fire is already happening,” said Little. “It’s a good idea to stockpile respirators and make sure you have them. The good news is that N95 respirators have a virtually unlimited shelf life.”
Last year, California’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board passed an emergency regulation related to worker safety as it pertains to smoke exposure. A very similar rule is expected to become a permanent regulation later this year when the emergency rule expires in July. There has already been discussion about making the permanent version of the wildfire smoke rule even more stringent than the emergency rule.
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