Last week, the Department of Industrial Relations’ (DIR) Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board approved an emergency regulation aimed at protecting outdoor workers from the effects of wildfire smoke. The regulation is pending with the Office of Administrative Law and is expected to be approved and take effect in early August.
The regulation’s scope is broad and includes anyone who works outside for more than one hour and is exposed to an air quality index of 151 or greater. For the most part, hospital workers would not be covered, as there is an exemption for “enclosed buildings or structures in which the air is filtered by a mechanical ventilation system and the employer ensures that windows, doors, bays, and other openings are kept closed to minimize contamination by outdoor or unfiltered air.” However, the regulations would apply in situations where a hospital must be evacuated or a nearby hospital must triage patients outdoors due to a surge.
CHA staff attended all of the advisory committee meetings to explain the myriad difficulties in meeting the regulations’ requirement — including those related to air quality monitoring and mandatory N95 usage at specified air quality index levels — during an evacuation. The board recognized the challenges posed for employers — including hospitals and utilities companies — with workers engaged in emergency response, but declined to make changes given its desire to have a regulation in place at the start of wildfire season. The board intends to convene another advisory committee to develop permanent regulations. CHA will continue to engage in that process.
Hospitals should review the regulation and make appropriate adjustments to their emergency response plans, including adding information about the effects of wildfire smoke and distributing the required information.