On July 30, 2019, 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, following its approval yesterday by the [California] Office of Administrative Law.”
At recent advisory committee hearings, employers including those in the agriculture and construction industries, expressed concerns that the new regulations would be difficult to implement in 2019. Despite potential difficulties in implementation, the emergency regulation, effective through January 28, 2020, is now on the books as section 5141.1 under the General Industry Safety Orders. The emergency regulation may be extended twice for 90 days each. According to the Department of Industrial Relations press release, “[t]he new regulation . . . applies to workplaces where the current Air Quality Index (AQI) for airborne particulate matter (PM 2.5) is 151 or greater, and where employers should reasonably anticipate that employees could be exposed to wildfire smoke.”
California employers with outdoor workers may want to take note and begin compliance activities since we are in the middle of wildfire season at present.
The new regulation requires that employers develop methods for identifying harmful exposures, communicating the wildfire smoke hazards, give training to employees, and also, in certain unique circumstances, provide respiratory protective equipment.
Cal/OSHA will convene the next wildfire smoke advisory committee in Oakland on August 27, 2019, “to establish a permanent regulation using the regular rulemaking process.” Cal/OSHA will post details regarding the meeting on its website.
Members of Ogletree Deakins’ Workplace Safety and Health Practice Group, Karen F. Tynan (Of Counsel, Sacramento) and Kevin D. Bland (Shareholder, Orange County), will be attending the meeting. Employers may want to contact their trade groups or counsel to gather more information about the process and regulations.