Workplace hazards from the Southern California fires


In the aftermath of the Southern California fires, everyone working in the area, cleaning up and restoring local homes and businesses, needs to prepare for potentially unsafe conditions and provide appropriate levels of protection.

The first safety measure to take is to assess the area and develop a comprehensive injury and illness prevention plan (IIPP). For those workplaces that already have an IIPP, a reevaluation of your plan and update maybe all that is needed.

In your IIPP make sure that workers are provided training on the unique hazards they may face when working in and around burned out structures and fire devastated areas. This planning and training should also stress the importance of wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) that includes gloves, eye protection, safety shoes and respirators. The following links can provide publications on Cal/OSHA and how to develop an IIPP, as well as some recommendations for appropriate types of PPE.

Cal/OSHA offices in the area are open during normal business hours and can be called 24 hours a day to respond to all emergency notifications. Cal/OSHA staff will also be out in the devastated areas assessing the safety hazards and providing assistance in protecting clean-up and recovery workers.

Smoke and ash will still be in the area and causing respiratory problems. To minimize worker discomfort from the smoke and ash avoid being downwind from dust generating activities such as heavy equipment operations, wear a respirator if needed, and limit physically active jobs during excessively smoky conditions. Smoky conditions can be more hazardous for workers with heart conditions or chronic lung diseases such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. Individuals who have any of these ailments should make sure that they are taking any medication that has been prescribed by their physicians for these conditions and have at least a five-day supply on hand. Individuals with asthma should consult their physician about an asthma management plan and strictly observe it during unusually smoky conditions.

These fires point to a need for all California employers to check and update their emergency evacuation plans to be prepared for the possibility of emergencies in their area. For employers who need advice on developing or updating their emergency plan, contact Cal/OSHA Consultation at 800-963-9424 for assistance. The following OSHA website also has a useful e-tool that can be used to develop an emergency evacuation plan: http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/evacuation/index.html

Useful additional information can be found at the following website addresses:

Cal/OSHA safety and health publications
http://www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/PubOrder.asp

Personal protective equipment recommendations:
Personal protective equipment
Recommended respiratory protection

Cleaning & reoccupying recommendations for non-damaged buildings:
http://www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/Fire_reoccupy_bldg.html

Department of Health Services web page:
http://www.dhs.ca.gov/

NIOSH web page on wildfire health & safety issues:
http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/firefighting/

San Diego County updates:
http://www.co.san-diego.ca.us/

San Bernardino County fire updates:
http://www.co.san-bernardino.ca.us/

Office of Emergency Services updates:
http://www.oes.ca.gov