Cal/OSHA Frequently Asked Questions – Wildfire Hazards

Employer FAQ's:

  1. I smell smoke from nearby wildfires, how can I determine if the air is unhealthy?
    Check the air quality index (AQI) at one of the websites listed in the answer to question 6 below. AQI over 101 can be unhealthy for sensitive groups. If the AQI is over 150, then the air is unhealthy for the general population. There are AQIs for several air pollutants. For wildfire smoke, use the AQI for PM2.5, which is measurement of fine particles in the air.
  2. There is wildfire smoke in the area and I have employees who are working outdoors and asking me for respirators. Am I required to provide them and provide them with training on how to safely use them?
    Where the current AQI for PM2.5 is 151 or greater, but does not exceed 500, employers must provide respirators to all employees for voluntary use in accordance with section 5144 and encourage employees to use respirators. If employees are complaining about smoke at lower AQI levels we still encourage you to provide respirators upon request. Employers must also train employees on wildfire smoke hazards, the protections available, and how to use respirators using section 5141.1 Appendix B.
  3. My employees work in an office building nearby wildfires, how can I determine if the air is safe to breathe?
    If the building has a central ventilation system that filters the air, windows and other openings are kept closed, and the doors are kept closed except when people enter or exit, the air quality should be safe. If there are still concerns with the air quality, portable air cleaners can provide additional protection. Follow the manufacturer's instructions and use air cleaners that are certified by the California Air Resources Board.
  4. Where can I find information on Cal/OSHA requirements related to wildfire smoke?
    Cal/OSHA's requirements for protecting employees from wildfire smoke can be found by visiting Section 5141.1.
  5. What is PM2.5?
    PM2.5 is short for Particulate Matter 2.5. PM2.5 is made up of particles that float in the air that are smaller than 2.5 micrometers across. Human hair is about 30 times thicker than the largest PM2.5 particles.
  6. Where can I check and obtain the Air Quality Index (AQI) and forecasts?
    Employers can check and obtain the AQI forecasts for PM2.5 from the following web sources:
  7. Am I required to communicate the hazards of wildfire smoke in more than one language?
    Yes, employers must communicate the hazards of wildfire smoke in a form readily understandable by all employees.
  8. Can I require my employees to work in the office during a power outage?
    Depending on the specific work activity, operations, facility, or machinery and equipment your employees use, there may be Cal/OSHA regulations that you are required to comply with. For example, office environments, warehouses or manufacturing facilities all use electricity for different things, lighting being one of them. Cal/OSHA enforces minimum illumination requirements inside buildings, stairwells, and exits, and safety standards designed to protect workers from motors that can automatically restart after power failures. These regulations can be found in Title 8 sections 3215, 3317, 1523, and 4296. In addition, Employers should have an adequate emergency action plan.

Employee FAQ's:

  1. My family and friends have told me that I should not work outside because of the nearby wildfire smoke, what should I do?
    Ask your employer what the air quality index is. In addition, you should inform your employer if you have any health effects that may be the result of wildfire smoke exposure such as asthma attacks, difficulty breathing, or chest pain.
  2. Can I use a cloth or a bandana as a respirator to protect against the hazards of wildfire smoke?
    No. Surgical masks or items worn over the nose and mouth such as scarves, T-shirts, and bandannas will not provide protection against wildfire smoke. An N95 filtering facepiece respirator is the minimum level of protection for wildfire smoke.
  3. I work inside of a warehouse, but my work area is smoky from the fires. What can I do about it?
    Ask your employer what the air quality index is, if it is below 500 PM2.5, you can request and voluntarily use a NIOSH approved filtering facepiece respirator. If it is above 150, your employer is required to offer respirators. Ask your employer to provide you with training on how to properly use it.
  4. What should I do if I learn that I am working in an area where the wildfire smoke particulate matter is more than 500?
    Ask your employer to provide you with a NIOSH approved filtering facepiece respirator to protect against the hazards of wildfire smoke. It is very hazardous for you to work in that situation without breathing protection.
  5. I work in an office building and it smells like smoke, should I worry?
    Ask your employer if your office building's ventilation system has a filter designed to capture smoke particulate matter. If it has such filters, the air should be safe. You can also ask your employer for portable air cleaners, although they are not required if the building's ventilation system already filters the air. Another option is to bring your own portable air cleaner. Make sure it is certified by the California Air Resources Board.
  6. How do I file a complaint or report an unsafe work condition to Cal/OSHA?
    Employees can file a complaint or report an unsafe or unhealthful work condition to Cal/OSHA by calling or emailing the nearest enforcement district office.
  7. My employer is using a generator to power our workplace. Is that legal?
    Yes. Your employer can use a generator to provide electrical power to your workplace, as long as it is outside. When in use, generators produce carbon monoxide gas, which is colorless, odorless, tasteless and potentially lethal. It is nearly impossible to tell whether ventilation is sufficient to prevent excessive carbon monoxide buildup without using personal carbon monoxide monitors. Therefore, in most situations, employers must not use generators indoors.

October 2019