Wildfire smoke and cleanup presents hazards that employers and workers in affected regions must understand. Wildfire smoke is composed of harmful chemicals and tiny particles suspended in the air that present a significant health hazard for workers exposed to it. These particles can irritate the lungs and cause serious or even fatal health effects, such as:
- Reduced lung function
- Worsening of asthma
- Heart failure
Employers and workers must prepare for and plan to implement procedures to reduce exposure to smoke when necessary. If workers must work in areas with high levels of smoke, especially for long periods, the following steps can be implemented to reduce smoke exposure:
- Frequently monitor air quality conditions in the area by visiting the EPA’s US Fire and Smoke Map or your state health department’s air quality website to determine the Air Quality Index (AQI) for a specific location.
- Relocate or reschedule work tasks to smoke-free or less smoky areas.
- Reduce levels of physical activity when possible, especially strenuous and heavy work.
- Require and encourage workers to take frequent breaks in places that are free from smoke.
- Provide appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as respirators (see OSHA’s Respirators Quick Guide).
The following are some additional wildfire protection resources available online:
OSHA’s Wildfires webpage is designed to help workers and employers prepare for a wildfire and to protect themselves in the wildfire’s aftermath.
Cal/OSHA’s webpage provides an overview of regulations to protect workers from wildfire smoke, including identification and control of harmful exposures, effective communication and training and instruction.
Outdoor Workers Exposed to Wildfire Smoke (NIOSH and CDC) webpage answers questions and offers resources for employers and workers on the potential adverse health outcomes associated with wildfire smoke exposure as well as health and safety recommendations for limiting workers’ exposure to wildfire smoke.
CDC Fire Safety Fact Sheet provides a brief overview of the health threat from wildfire smoke and tips on how to protect yourself.
WILDFIRE SMOKE: A GUIDE FOR PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICIALS (airnow.gov) is intended to provide public health officials with information needed to be prepared for smoke events and to communicate health risks and take measures to protect the public. Although developed for public health officials, the information in this document can be useful to employers and workers involved in wildfire response and recovery operations.