TUMWATER – With more than 600 wildfires already reported this year, Washington is under a state of emergency. Outdoor workers in construction, agriculture and other jobs are at risk from breathing particulate matter in wildfire smoke as it passes through the air.
The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries filed emergency rules to help protect employees exposed to wildfire smoke, which contains harmful chemicals, gases, and fine particles. The most concern hazard is associated with the smallest particles, or particulate matter that is less than 2.5 micrometers. These particles can get deep into the lungs, worsening existing health conditions like asthma.
The new wildfire smoke rules spell out to employers how to identify harmful smoke exposure risks and when to notify their workers. They also require employers to train employees and supervisors about wildfire smoke; ensure employees showing symptoms of wildfire smoke exposure are monitored and receive medical care when necessary and take actions to eliminate or reduce exposures to wildfire smoke, especially when particulate matter levels are high.
Measures to eliminate or reduce worker exposure may include moving indoors, reducing work intensity, providing additional rest periods and providing employers will respirators such as an N95 or a KN95 disposal mask.