The Washington State Department Labor & Industries (L&I) recently filed a Wildfire Smoke emergency rule to provide increased protection for employees exposed to the hazards associated with wildfire smoke.
This emergency rule applies to workplaces where the employer should reasonably anticipate that employees may be exposed to wildfire smoke. The rule went into effect on July 16, 2021, but enforcement for the following elements of the rule will not occur until the following dates:
- Exposure Controls – July 23, 2021
- Provision of Respiratory Protection – July 23, 2021
- Training for Workers – August 2, 2021
The new wildfire smoke rules outline how to identify harmful smoke exposure risks and when to notify their workers. They also require employers to:
- Train employees and supervisors about wildfire smoke.
- Ensure employees showing symptoms of wildfire smoke exposure are monitored and receive medical care when necessary; and,
- Take actions to eliminate or reduce exposures to wildfire smoke where feasible, when levels of particulate matter are high.
The rule sets the standard for dangerously poor air quality at PM 2.5 concentrations of 55.5 micrograms per cubic meter.
Measures to eliminate or reduce worker exposure may include:
- Moving work to enclosed buildings, structures, or vehicles where the air is adequately filtered.
- Moving employees to areas with lower smoke exposure.
- Reducing work intensity.
- Providing additional rest periods; and,
- Providing employees with respirators, such as an N95 or a KN95 disposal mask at no cost for voluntary use when levels of particulate matter are high.
Although not required, L&I also recommends employers take action to reduce employee exposure to dangerous air at even lower levels of particulate matter, especially for sensitive groups with asthma or other lung conditions.
Monitoring Air Quality
The emergency wildfire smoke rules include several ways employers can check PM 2.5 levels. They can check sites including the EPA’s AirNow website or State of WA Department of Ecology’s Air Monitoring Network and download mobile apps like “EPA AirNow” or “Air Quality WA.”
More information about the rulemaking process and a complete list of safety and health rules can be found on L&I’s Find Safety and Health Rules page.
Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department Wildfire Smoke