Fire season is here! OR OSHA has new regulations for those who may work around outdoor smoke, including mask requirements and guidelines for indoor smoke exposure. The harmful chemicals and tiny particles suspended in wildfire smoke can make anyone sick. The health danger concerning these tiny particles is addressed in newly published standards for worker protection. These standards will apply to employers whose employees are exposed to unhealthy or hazardous levels of wildfire smoke.
Standards Now Apply to All Oregon Workers
Although OAR 437-004-9791 applies only to agricultural employers, its key requirements and exemptions are identical to OAR 437-002-1081, which applies to all other Oregon employers such as general industry, construction, and forest activities.
DOWNLOAD THE FACT SHEET: Oregon OSHA’s Key Requirements **
This downloadable fact sheet has detailed explanations and information on requirements, a list of business and industry exemptions, exposure measurements and other key resources.
Air Quality Index [AQI] = Health Hazards
Mild symptoms of wildfire smoke exposure include coughing, runny nose, eye irritation and inflammation.
Severe symptoms can include potentially fatal health effects like trouble breathing, asthma attacks, reduced lung function, chest pain, and heart attacks.
Triggering Levels of Wildfire Smoke as Defined By OSHA
The level of wildfire smoke triggering these standards is when the ambient air concentration of particles reaches an AQI of PM2.5 of 101 or greater. The AQI index was developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as an indicator of overall air quality for the general population. When work locations are affected by wildfire smoke, the air quality conditions for your geographical area can be found by using the following websites or apps:
- Oregon Department of Environmental Quality [DEQ] Air Quality Monitoring Data website: https://oraqi.deq.state.or.us/home/map
- U.S. EPA AirNow Fire and Smoke Map website: https://fire.airnow.gov/
- OregonAir (DEQ) app: Search for the free “OregonAir” app in your app store.
- U.S. EPA AirNow app: Search for the free “EPA AIRNow” app in your app store.
|AQI Value||Wildfire Smoke Standards’ KEY REQUIREMENTS for Exposure Level|
|101 – 250||
|251 – 500||1-4. Provide the requirements listed for AQI 101 – 250 above … and
7. Provide NIOSH-approved filtering facepiece respirators for mandatory use by implementing a Wildfire Smoke Respiratory Protection Program in accordance with Appendix A in the Protection from Wildfire Smoke standards.
|501 and above||1-4. Provide the requirements listed for AQI 101 – 250 above … and
7. Provide NIOSH-approved respirators for mandatory use by implementing a Respiratory Protection Program in accordance with 29 CFR 1910.134 or OAR 437-004-1041
Facemask Standards – Regular facemasks are NOT approved for use to mitigate exposure to wildfire smoke!
The new standards require that employers provide NIOSH-approved filtering facepiece respirators for voluntary use to employees exposed to PM2.5 levels at or above 35.5 μg/m3 (AQI 101). Employer-provided respirators for voluntary protection from wildfire smoke must either be distributed directly to employees or be made readily accessible to any exposed employee at each work location.
- NIOSH-APPROVED filtering face respirators for wildfire smoke protection include N95, N99, N100, R95, R99, R100, P95, P99, and P100.
- NON-APPROVED respirators include any “KN” designations, such as KN95s. KN respirators do not reduce employee exposure to wildfire smoke.
Indoor Wildfire Smoke Exposure
Do not assume that indoor worksites are automatically protected from air pollution caused by drifting wildfire smoke!
Most building HVAC systems do not support a MERV 13 (or higher) filter which protects from ambient smoke particles. If we get a bad fire season, HEPA filters sell out quickly. It is possible to make something pretty inexpensive for about $40. Click here for instructions on how to make your own.
Wildfire Season Safety Resources
Cardinal Services is committed to keeping you and your workers safe! For more guidelines, facts, videos, and helpful resources for employers, visit:
- OSHA Oregon’s website on Wildfire and Heat Stress.
- SAIF.com offers many resources for employers, such as Heat Illness Training videos and slide presentations, a Heat Illness Policy & Prevention Plan that can easily be adapted to your business, and Heat Exhaustion vs. Heat Stoke handout and poster [English & Spanish].
** This Employer Alert article is excerpted from OR OSHA Factsheet.