In the late hours of Wednesday evening, a fast-moving wildfire tore across northeastern Sonoma County. The “Kincade” Fire has consumed more than 16,000 acres and is not yet contained. Evacuation has been ordered for the city of Geyserville and surrounding communities. An interactive Incident Map is available here.
As our nearby communities grapple with displacement and disruption, we remind employers that high temperatures trigger the obligation to comply with California Heat Illness Prevention and Wildfire Smoke Protection for those in close proximity to an active wildfire.
California Heat Illness Prevention standards apply to all workers that spend a significant time working outdoors, including but not limited to agricultural workers and delivery drivers. Pursuant to California’s Heat Illness Prevention standards, employers are required to train workers on the signs and symptoms of heat illness, provide shade when temperatures exceed 80 degrees, develop emergency response procedures, and train workers on how to execute those procedures when necessary. There are special procedures for high-heat conditions where temperatures reach 95 degrees or above, including observing workers for signs of heat illness, designating workers on each worksite authorized to call for emergency medical services, encouraging workers to drink at least 1 quart of water per hour, and holding pre-shift meetings before work to review high heat procedures. As Cal/OSHA points out, special attention should be given to new workers who are not used to working under hot conditions.
Smoke from wildfires contains chemicals, gases and fine particles that can reduce lung function, worsen asthma and other existing heart and lung conditions, and cause coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing. The first step to Respiratory Protection is to determine if there is harmful exposure by checking the Air Quality Index (AQI), which can be found here. If the air quality is at unhealthy levels, employers must provide training to employees, lower employee exposure (examples of such are moving worksites, adjusting the workday schedule, increasing time and frequency of rest breaks), and in some instances, provide respiratory protection equipment (such as dust masks). Employers must alert employees when the air quality is harmful and what protective measures are available to employees. Note, the employer’s obligation to check the Air Quality Index is ongoing and so the employer should check the AQI periodically during each shift.
COUNSEL TO MANAGEMENT:
For all agricultural employers operating in high-heat areas, pay close attention to the outlined rules in this article. In addition, Cal/OSHA also provides further online information and training materials, available here. As for the latest wildfire incident, employers should continue to check the Air Quality Index, continue training employees, and ensure that necessary protective equipment is available. If you have questions regarding worker safety or regulatory compliance contact the experts at the Saqui Law Group, a division of Dowling Aaron Incorporated.