Washington introduces rules to protect outdoor workers from wildfire smoke

This has famously been a year in which wildfires have raged around the world. We even have a campaign in the UK to prevent a city being impacted by fire smoke, albeit that these fires are controlled rather than wild.  

The health impacts of wildfires are obvious. Firework displays as far apart as North America to India were banned in order to avoid exacerbating already calamitous air pollution levels.

green trees on mountain under white clouds during daytime

Acknowledging that such fires will inevitably become more frequent, Washington has become only the third state in America to introduce permanent legislation designed to protect people who work outdoors during air pollution episodes.   

Having enacted temporary measures in 2021 and again in 2022, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has filed permanent wildfire smoke rules, which will take effect on 15th January.

The state will join Oregon, and California as the only ones with permanent rules regulating most outdoor workers’ exposure to the particles in wildfire smoke, which is one of the fastest-growing pollutants.

In 2021 and 2022, L&I enacted temporary emergency wildfire smoke rules to protect workers. The new permanent rules filed this week will be in effect year-round.

Craig Blackwood, L&I’s assistant director for the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, said: ‘With our changing climate, we know the threat of wildfire smoke isn’t a short-term problem,. By developing year-round, permanent rules that clearly spell out the requirements employers must follow, we can help them protect workers from the hazards of wildfire smoke.’

The rules require employers to be prepared for the impact wildfire smoke will have on their workers by creating a response plan, providing training to employees, monitoring smoke levels, implementing a two-way communications system, and making sure employees have access to prompt medical attention.

Employers are also required to take specific action any time PM2.5, rises above a certain level. Above 100, for example, respiratory protection is required to be provided although their use is voluntary. Furthermore, ‘feasible’  wildfire smoke exposure controls should be in place.

Chris Pyke, an industrial hygienist with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries who is involved in the rulemaking process said: ‘We needed regulations to protect workers from this hazard. Over the past decade or so, the intensity and frequency of wildfires has been going up really significantly. Outdoor workers have a much higher risk of experiencing the health consequences of wildfire smoke exposure.’



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