Fires Spark Interest in OSHA, Air Quality Guidelines

Summer in California and across the West is fire season. Smoke and particulate from large fires can spread over numerous counties, and affect everything from air quality to driving conditions. Employers need to care take they are ensuring a safe workspace for employees.

Monitor air quality. When regulators deem air is “unhealthy,” “very unhealthy,” or “hazardous,” it is harder to breath. All employees, not just those doing physical labor, will tire more easily. Offer more frequent work breaks, and closely monitor employees. Anyone feeling dizzy, faint, or nauseous requires medical attention. Ensure employees have an air-conditioned break room.

Use common sense precautions to ensure indoor air quality. Close windows, make sure your heating, ventilation and cooling systems are in working order and filters are clean. When possible, limit the time employees spend outdoors. Some employers close indoor and outdoor exercise facilities, to discourage extra activity when air quality is poor.

Provide workers who may want them with respiratory protective equipment, such as disposable facepieces or dust masks. Equipment may need to be cleaned more often, to keep it clear of ash and particulate, increasing the workload. If that’s the case, consider bringing on an extra employee per shift, rather than asking current employees to work overtime.

Cal/OSHA has suggestions for employers here, along with specific recommendations for certain industries, such as construction. You can find these guidelines here.

This is also a good time to reinforce general fire safety. Remind employees of existing fire safety and evacuation plans. Make sure the phone tree or text system that tells employees when to leave an area, or when it’s safe to return, are working properly. Reinforce the dangers of improperly stowing flammable materials. Ensure employees using designated smoking areas are properly disposing of cigarette butts and other materials.