How do wildfires affect the occupational health and safety of people in agriculture?
Farmers and farmworkers are at a greater risk for exposure to wildfire ash and chemical residue due to their work outdoors and long shifts, both during an active fire and as well as during cleanup and recovery. Due to the nature of agricultural work, it is difficult for farmers and farmworkers to stop working due to wildfires. Lost workdays and the potential destruction of crops can have an economic effect on both farmers and workers.
Regardless of their proximity to wildfires, agricultural workers can struggle with stress and other mental health issues related to the effects of wildfires. Income, access to healthcare, and immigration concerns increase the vulnerability of the farmworker population.
What protections and information are employers required to provide and what are workers’ rights related to wildfire smoke exposure?
The Cal/OSHA Standards Board passed the emergency regulation petition to protect outdoor workers from wildfire smoke on July 18, 2019. The petition outlines required information that all employers must provide to outdoor workers exposed to wildfire smoke.
The approved regulation, which went into effect on July 29, 2019, includes:
- The health effects of wildfire smoke
- The right to obtain medical treatment without fear of reprisal
- How employees can obtain the current Air Quality Index (AQI) for PM2.5
- The requirements in Title 8, section 5141.1 about wildfire smoke
- The employer’s two-way communication system
- The employer’s methods to protect employees from wildfire smoke
- The importance, limitations, and benefits of using a respirator when exposed to wildfire smoke
- How to properly put on, use, and maintain the respirators provided by the employer
What will be included in the wildfire smoke safety training provided by WCAHS?
WCAHS provides safety resources on wildfire smoke, air quality, and respiratory health for both employers and employees. A training poster is under development and will be a useful tool for tailgate trainings and safety reminders in the workplace. We will also have talking points for promotores to use with the poster that highlight workers’ rights under the wildfire smoke regulation and reminders about the health impacts of smoke exposure. WCAHS is developing an in-person training for agricultural employers and employees that provides a more comprehensive and in-depth review of the required training topics.
- AQI sources:
- Wildfire smoke regulation information:
- Respirator resources: