The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) is continuing to advance a permanent wildfire smoke standard. A temporary rule has been in effect since July of last year and the permanent version of the smoke standard is shaping up to be very similar. An issue raised by several different industry groups during the comment period included the increased strain on the supplies of N95 respirators that will be needed for compliance with the rule.
“There is a placeholder for the permanent regulation in place, so essentially it’s go-time for the ag industry,” said Acting President and CEO of AgSafe, Theresa Kiehn. “And ag is not the only industry that is going to be required to have these masks. We’re talking about construction, landscapers, municipalities, anybody that is working outside is going to need to have these masks. So, trying to find them is going to be a huge challenge.”
Employers are required to have enough N95 respirators on hand so that every employee can be outfitted with the masks. The rule dictates that employees must be offered a mask when the Air Quality Index measures anything above 150. Employees must also be given training on the wildfire smoke rule. The current smoke standard states that employees can choose not to wear masks in relation to smoke exposure, however, any COVID-19 safety protocols will still need to be adhered to as long as they are in place.
“One of the things that we need to be mindful of is that if we do have employees who are saying they do not want to wear them, having documentation that you offered to have the masks available and ready is important,” Kiehn pointed out. “Having them sign something saying that they received the proper training that is required under this standard and that they are essentially refusing to wear a mask. So, that when Cal/OSHA does come out and maybe does a surprise inspection you’ve got that documentation ready.”