Rely on Occupational Safety & Health ReporterSM for full news coverage and documentation of federal and state workplace safety and health programs, standards, legislation,...
By David McAfee
As fires continue to rage in the northern part of California, other areas are starting to clean up the destruction left behind and the state is urging workers to take precautions.
The state is ramping up efforts to spread safety awareness to emergency responders going into fire-torn areas, but also is prepping relief workers and ordinary employees heading into areas where neighborhoods once stood.
That’s where workers could be exposed to both smoke and ashes containing “chemicals, gases, and fine particles that really can affect your health,” Erika Monterroza from the state’s Department of Industrial Relations, told Bloomberg Environment.
The owner and operator of Napa, Calif.-based Napa Valley Steaming, which specializes in natural disaster and fire cleanup, said it’s still too early to begin cleaning up because of residual smoke and ashes.
“We certainly want to help with the cleanup and get out there and get going, but I think it’s a little too early now,” owner James Hicks told Bloomberg Environment Oct. 17. “I think we’re going to try to get out there tonight and do some stuff, but it’s pretty smoky today.”
Hicks added that smoke, which can contain dangerous particles, was a factor in determining when his team can safely start cleaning up after a fire.
“Even with the masks, just getting out there and working it, it’s still not the best,” he said.
Hicks also said that his workers collect, filter, and discharge water safely when they begin cleaning fire retardant off of structures. Workers also will wear full respirators, as they do for other jobs.
“They’re just worried about people going in there without respirators, cleaning stuff, and just letting the water run down the storm drains,” Hicks told Bloomberg Environment. “We just want to help get people back to normal.”
California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health sent a wildfire safety notice Oct. 13 to farm labor contractors and the Heat Illness Prevention Network, a group that includes worker advocacy organizations and industry and labor associations. The division sent a follow-up notice Oct. 14 telling employers where to get free respirator masks.
“We want to make sure to get that information online and out to folks, as well, because that also requires some special protection,” Monterroza said. Cal/OSHA is doing its “utmost to get information out to employers to advise them that these are special circumstances” and that they need to update their safety plans.
Cal/OSHA recommends employers use filtered ventilation systems in indoor work areas, limit time that employees work outdoors, and provide masks certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
“They also have to make sure not only that they’re ensuring that the workers are using them appropriately, but they have to monitor the workers that are using them,” Monterroza said. “It takes a little bit more work to breathe, so that means that especially for those that suffer from asthma, or that have heart problems or other health problems, perhaps they need to take other measures with them.”
She added that employers also need to be sure to give workers frequent breaks, especially if they’re working in the heat or doing heavy work.
The California Chamber of Commerce, which counts Walt Disney Corp. and Microsoft among its 14,000 members, also instructed employers on how to plan ahead during emergencies.
“Employers must remember their obligations to provide a safe workplace,” it said in a statement. “Cal/OSHA is advising employers to take special precautions to protect workers from hazards from wildfire smoke.”
Monterroza noted that Cal/OSHA is finalizing additional educational materials on cleanup “in the next day or two.”
All Bloomberg BNA treatises are available on standing order, which ensures you will always receive the most current edition of the book or supplement of the title you have ordered from Bloomberg BNA’s book division. As soon as a new supplement or edition is published (usually annually) for a title you’ve previously purchased and requested to be placed on standing order, we’ll ship it to you to review for 30 days without any obligation. During this period, you can either (a) honor the invoice and receive a 5% discount (in addition to any other discounts you may qualify for) off the then-current price of the update, plus shipping and handling or (b) return the book(s), in which case, your invoice will be cancelled upon receipt of the book(s). Call us for a prepaid UPS label for your return. It’s as simple and easy as that. Most importantly, standing orders mean you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you’re relying on. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.960.1220 or by sending an email to email@example.com.
Put me on standing order at a 5% discount off list price of all future updates, in addition to any other discounts I may quality for. (Returnable within 30 days.)
Notify me when updates are available (No standing order will be created).
This Bloomberg BNA report is available on standing order, which ensures you will all receive the latest edition. This report is updated annually and we will send you the latest edition once it has been published. By signing up for standing order you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you need. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.372.1033, option 5, or by sending us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put me on standing order
Notify me when new releases are available (no standing order will be created)