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California Fires and Protecting Workers' Health from Hazards

By Monica Nicole Netherly posted 08-09-2018 11:48 PM

  
As a southern California native, I can tell you that wildfires are apart of everyday life.  Big or small, wildfires invoke fear and paranoia to both property owners and renters alike, especial during Santa Ana season which occurs from September through May.  Canyon fires near my home growing up were very common, and were usually extinguished in rapid time.  But that all changed in 2003 and 2007, when two devastating wildfires came dangerously close to metropolitan San Diego and Orange County.  The Cedar Fire was pretty intense.  I remember having to drive around wearing a half-face dust mask to get to and from school cause the air quality was so poor.  I watched as ash fell from the sky and the sun fought to shine through the thick smoke.  And then there was the Witch Fire which started from a downed power line in East County.  I remember going to work for a few days and then being instructed to leave once the smoke became unbearable inside the workplace.   For the last four years California has had a number of unprecedented wildfires.  There are currently dozen of fires burning through state and the scary thing is, its not even Santa Ana season.  So I wanted to reach out to the Catalyst community to see how their employers are handing the impacts of the fires, especially for workers in operations that are exposed to wildfire smoke.  What best practices are being implemented to protect workers' health in your industry?  
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05-03-2019 09:06 AM

The Teamsters represent workers who both responded to the fires and those who had to deliver packages to areas impacted by the wildfires.   This wildfire was so far-reaching that its impact was felt for miles.  Some employers were forced to institute a respiratory protection program in areas where air quality was poor causing employees to don NIOSH approved N95 respirators where applicable and institute work schedules that limited time spent in the areas most severely affected.  The situation was tricky as new guidance documents were being published weekly from Cal-OSHA.  It seems now however, there are a lot more resources available on Protecting Outdoor Workers Exposed to Smoke from Wildfires.   See the web link here: https://www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/wildfire/worker-protection-from-wildfire-smoke.html

08-14-2018 10:44 AM

Monica,
Your comments are timely as I was just in Southern California last week assisting a client with employee concerns about wildfires.  Of course I advised that we keep up with the local community weather monitoring.  We also monitored for indoor air quality and particulate matter.  As a IH catalyst community we need to continue to advise our employers and clients on proactive measures for protection of employees and the community.  I also visited the EPA website for wildfire information.  

John