The Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) Standards Board has unanimously approved new regulations pertaining to wildfires and smoke exposure. The decision comes after an emergency rulemaking proposal was submitted, eliminating the obligation for Cal/OSHA to respond to stakeholder comments. The new air quality standards for smoke exposure are likely to take effect before August 1.
“Employers now have an obligation when the Air Quality Index reaches 151, which is the unhealthy category, and when they can reasonably anticipate that their employees might be exposed to wildfire smoke, they have to ensure that they can get their workers indoors,” said AgSafe President and CEO Amy Wolfe. “If that’s not feasible, they have to make available for voluntary use, respirators such as an N95.”
The regulation is now being reviewed by the Office of Administrative Law for approval under the Administrative Procedures Act. Once the regulation is enacted employers will need to monitor their worksites during fire season to ensure the air quality is within the regulated parameters. Wolfe had previously noted concern about the Air Quality Index and its efficacy in measuring certain particulate matter.
“The Air Quality Index in no way measures fine particulate matter, and in particular the pollutant that they’re most concerned about. The pollutant as they’ve defined it, is particulate matter 2.5,” said Wolfe. “The frustration here, the challenge here, is that we’re using a measurement to trigger when we provide additional personal protective equipment, or we move our workers out of these conditions, that doesn’t in any way actually measure the pollutant that we’re most concerned about.”
The new air quality requirements will be in effect for one year while Cal/OSHA works on crafting a permanent version of the regulation. The agency will be holding a public advisory meeting on August 27th in Oakland.
Listen to Wolfe’s interview below.