For many California employers, Cal/OSHA handles most regulations in workplace safety.
Last year, a petition was filed by worker groups in California to protect people working outside from unsafe air quality caused by wildfires. As a result of the petition, Cal/OSHA began work on new regulations that will be triggered when the Air Quality Index, known as the AQI, reaches unhealthy levels.
Because of the recent fires in California, Moutrie explains, employers want to make sure their employees working outdoors are protected from effects of smoke. “The background issue that existed in the prior wildfires was that as the air quality worsened, the employers were in a difficult situation because you want to provide basic protections: respirators that will do filtration of the smoke hazards.” However, Moutrie describes, there is a current regulation in place, Section 5144, which states that if employers are going to distribute respirators to their employees, there are other steps they must take, which include fit testing and medical evaluations done by professionals.
“The problem is, I can’t just hand out respirators because I need these testings, but clearly something was needed because smoke was out there,” says Moutrie. “These regulations were initially brought up to fix that. The concept is that these [regulations] allow workplaces to continue operating while providing some protection to workers without going through the fit testing and other regulations that are hard to do in an emergency situation.”
The new regulations by Cal/OSHA are pending with the Cal/OSHA Standards Board expected to vote on them in July. According to Moutrie, the regulations are expected to be approved. Though the CalChamber has some ongoing concerns with the regulations’ present form, Moutrie expressed that employers believe the regulations are a step in the right direction.