The Danger of Hazy Wildfire Smoke Standards

In the wake of recent devastating wildfires, California’s homeowners, businesses, and local governments have been left to clean up the devastation and rebuild their lives.  While rebuilding, Government agencies regulating water and waste disposal are engaged, and recently labor groups petitioned OSHA for emergency rulemaking to create regulatory protections for outdoor workers inhaling wildfire smoke.  The petition has been granted and Cal/OSHA has scheduled an advisory meeting to discuss proposed emergency regulations on May 8, 2019 in Oakland, California.
We have been monitoring this regulatory process to ensure that the resulting regulations not only protect workers, but are also practical and feasible for employers.  However, the present draft text of the emergency regulations on wildfire smoke contains numerous concerns for employers, including:
Unclear standards to trigger employers’ duties under the text.
–         Unclear requirements for employers regarding monitoring air quality and weather.
–         Unclear requirements for communicating weather conditions to employees.
–         Unclear application to indoor or mixed workplaces, including potentially requiring new MERV-13 filters be installed by all businesses near a wildfire.
We have submitted written comments seeking clarification on these issues and will attend the hearing on May 8th as well.  Stay tuned to see how these regulations are amended or revised through the process.
And, as you keep eye on the regulatory process for wildfire smoke, don’t let other upcoming OSHA rulemaking issues slip past you.  Depending on your industry, the following processes should also be on your radar:
–          Advisory meeting on May 9th for Electronic Reporting of Workplace Injury and Illness data.
–          Advisory meeting on June 4th for re-examining Permissible Exposure Limits (PEL) for various airborne contaminants.
–          Revised draft standard on Indoor Heat Illness was released by Cal/OSHA on April 22, 2019, with rulemaking documents expected to follow soon.

Robert Moutrie, Policy Advocate