Regulation for Workers Near Wildfire Smoke


In California wildfires have tragically become routine.  The deadliest and largest fires in California history occurred in the last two years.  The California Department of Insurance reports that as of April 2019 insurance claims from the Camp, Hill and Woolsey fires in November 2018 were already over $12 billion.

Legislators and regulators are moving quickly to respond to the new wildfire reality facing California.  On July 30, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) announced that its emergency regulation requiring employers to protect workers from hazards associated with wildfire smoke is now in effect.

To listen to a full recording on how to comply with this new wildfire smoke regulation, please click here

What does a grower need to do to comply with the standards?

First, growers need to stock up on N-95 masks.  If there is a wildfire causing an Air Quality Index (AQI) of between 150 and 500 at the workplace, growers will be required to make N-95 masks available for voluntary use by the workers.  A fit test and medical evaluation of the worker are NOT required. 

For some workers, the N-95 mask is uncomfortable or makes it difficult to breathe. So some workers may choose not to wear one.  For some workers there may be health risks associated with wearing a N-95 mask.  Consequently, growers are required to provide full information to the worker and some growers may want to ask workers sign a waiver when using the mask voluntarily. 

Because wild fires can burn for several days, growers will need to anticipate lengthy wild fires and have enough masks on hand so that they are available if/when needed..  For example, last year’s Camp Fire burned for 17 days.  In 2017, the Northern California wine country fires burned for almost two weeks.  Obviously, the intensity of the fire and the AQI levels will change daily depending on wind and other elements.  But, we want to avoid the situation of ordering masks in a hurry only to find that because of the high demand there are none in stock. 

The requirement to make masks available for voluntary use kicks in when BOTH of these occur:

  1. The current AQI is 151 or greater; and
  2. The employer should reasonably anticipate that employees may be exposed to wildfire smoke.

The best way to determine this is by monitoring reports from your local air pollution control district, or air quality management district.  Information is also available from U.S. EPA’s AirNow website, U.S. Forest Service Wildland Air Quality Response Program, and the California Air Resources Board. 

The standards also contain requirements for communication, training and instruction, as well as engineering controls and administrative controls if practicable.  For instance, engineering controls can be achieved by providing enclosed buildings, structures, or vehicles where the air is filtered. Administrative controls can be achieved by relocating work, changing work schedules, reducing work intensity, or providing additional rest periods.  Keep in mind that engineering controls and administrative controls are not required if they are not practicable.

For most workers, the mask will be the practicable accommodation to deal with wildfire smoke.

How bad is the air quality at 151 or above?

The AQI is divided into six categories as shown below.

Air Quality Index                            Levels of Health Concern

0 to 50                                                Good

51 to 100                                           Moderate

101 to 150                                         Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups

151 to 200                                         Unhealthy

201 to 300                                         Very Unhealthy

301 to 500                                         Hazardous

CAWG has created sample forms that can be used for safety meetings and a liability waiver for voluntary respirator use. These forms are available to all CAWG members in both English and Spanish.

 Attached you will find samples for:

*The attached documents are samples only, and are not intended to be legal advice by CAWG or its directors, officers, employees and attorneys.  Use of these sample documents is voluntary and you are encouraged to seek your own legal and technical advice before presenting these samples to employees or others. 

 Links to the regulation in English and Spanish: