On July 29, 2019 California’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board issued emergency regulations to protect outdoor workers from the harmful effects of wildfire smoke. The emergency regulations are in response to the wildfires that have plagued the state in the last several years. Employers are now required to monitor levels of smoke at workplaces or worksites and take protective action in response to changed conditions that put worker safety in jeopardy. The new emergency regulations are effective through January 28, 2020, with two potential 90-day extensions, until the permanent rule is effective sometime in 2020.
For the most part, workplaces at which the air quality index reaches a certain level are required to comply with these emergency regulations. Employers must monitor air quality, and when it reaches or is expected to reach a dangerous level, reduce their employee’s exposure to smoke. Affected industries include agriculture and construction; occupations like delivery, maintenance, and landscaping workers; and even retail locations, like restaurants and banks, where outside doors are opened throughout the day by patrons. There are exempt employees, such as firefighters fighting a wildfire and workers inside buildings or vehicles with mechanical ventilation, for example.
Communication and Training Requirements
Employers are required to update, communicate, and train employees about wildfire smoke and these health and safety regulations. Employers should consult with an employment lawyer to update workplace policies and employment handbooks to reflect these new regulations.
California businesses must comply with these new health and safety regulations. The first step, however, is to investigate if your business is required to comply with these rules. To learn if your business is exempt from the new regulations, contact an employment law attorney. Secondly, employers will need to create policies and procedures to satisfy the planning, education, and training components of the regulations.
Wildfires are disruptive to employers and employees alike. Like other natural disasters, you must anticipate your wildfire response to maximize employee safety while minimizing disruption or intervention into the work of your organization.
Employers should meet with an employment lawyer at least once a year regarding new laws or changes to regulations that might impact their business. Employment handbooks should be reviewed annually, and updated at a minimum every three years. It is important to keep current and comply with federal, state, and local labor and employment laws to protect your company and employees. If you are a business in Fremont, Newark, Hayward, East Bay, Milpitas, Union City, San Leandro, Gilroy, San Jose, or Santa Clara, California, consult legal counsel today to learn how to bring your business in compliance with the new emergency regulations to protect employees from wildfire smoke.