On May 10, 2022, Oregon OSHA adopted permanent regulations to address workers’ exposure to wildfire smoke. The rules go into effect July 1, 2022, and apply to all outdoor workers who are exposed to wildfire smoke where the ambient air concentration for fine particulate matter equals or exceeds an Air Quality Index (AQI) value of 101.
Action levels: Oregon adopted three action levels based on the outdoor air concentration of Particulate Matter measuring 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5). The first action level occurs when the Air Quality Index (AQI) is 101 or higher (equivalent to a PM2.5 concentration of 35.5 micrograms per cubic meter). The second action level occurs when the AQI is 251 or higher (equivalent of PM2.5 concentration of 200.9 micrograms per cubic meter). The third and final action level occurs when the AQI is 501 or higher (equivalent of PM2.5 concentration of 500.4 micrograms per cubic meter).
Exemptions: The permanent rules don’t apply to: (1) enclosed buildings and structures in which the air is filtered by a mechanical ventilation system; (2) enclosed vehicles in which the air is filtered and all windows, doors, and other openings are kept closed except when people need to open doors to enter or exit; (3) situations where an employer predetermines that operations will be halted at an AQI of 101 or higher; and (4) employees working from home. Certain activities and operations, including wildland firefighting, emergency operations, and intermittent exposures for less than 15 minutes are partially exempt; in these circumstances, only the training requirements and the provision for allowing voluntary use of filtering facepiece respirators apply.
Information and training: You must provide wildfire smoke training to all employees who may be exposed to a workplace AQI of 101 or higher. Employees must be trained annually prior to wildfire smoke exposure, in a language that is readily understood, and in a manner that facilitates employee feedback. Training records must include the date of the training, the names of each employee trained, and the name of the person who conducted the training. You must maintain the records for one year in electronic or written form. The training must cover:
- The symptoms of wildfire smoke exposure.
- The potential acute and chronic health effects from wildfire smoke exposure, including increased health risks to “sensitive groups” (people with pre-existing health conditions and those who are sensitive to air pollution).
- Employees’ right to report health issues and obtain medical treatment related to a wildfire smoke exposure.
- How employees can obtain the current and forecasted AQI for their work location.
- The importance, limitations, and benefits of using a filtering facepiece respirator (which you must provide for free), and how to use and maintain it.
- Your procedures for preventing wildfire smoke-related illness.
- Review of any job tasks in which employees are prohibited from using a filtering facepiece respirator because it would expose them to a worse hazard than wildfire smoke.
- Procedures for supervisors to follow when an employee reports or exhibits symptoms requiring immediate medical attention.
- How to operate and interpret the results of any PM2.5 monitoring device used to comply with the wildfire smoke rule.
- An explanation of your two-way communication system for wildfire smoke exposure control.
Two-way communication: You must implement a two-way communication system between supervisors and employees to communicate wildfire smoke information. The system should notify exposed employees of air quality changes and allow them to notify supervisors or management of potential exposures.
AQI of 101 or higher: You must complete a wildfire smoke exposure assessment when employees are, or are likely be, exposed to a workplace AQI of 101 or higher. You must use engineering and administrative controls to reduce employees’ exposure. Examples of exposure controls include changing employee work schedules to when better air quality is forecasted or temporarily relocating outdoor workers to available indoor areas. In addition, you are required to maintain and make NIOSH-approved respirators available for voluntary use.
AQI of 251 or higher: If, even after applying engineering and administrative controls, the AQI is still 251 or higher, you are required to ensure that employees use appropriate NIOSH-approved filtering facepiece respirators. You must either follow the usual Respiratory Protection Standard procedure for conducting medical evaluations and fit testing under 29 CFR 1910.134 or else follow Oregon OSHA’s Wildfire Smoke Respiratory Protection Program in Appendix A of the new rule. If you choose Appendix A, you must train employees about the proper use of respirators, explain the requirement to conduct a seal check and how to properly do so, and explain how to effectively store and maintain respirators so they don’t present a health risk to the user.
AQI of 501 or higher: If the AQI is 501 or higher, you must ensure employees wear tight-fitting NIOSH-approved respirators. You must also implement a complete Respiratory Protection Program, in compliance with federal regulations (29 CFR 1910.134).
Tips: We’ll be updating our Model Policy, Wildfire Smoke Program, to incorporate the permanent Oregon wildfire smoke regulations. Oregon OSHA hasn’t yet updated their webpage on wildfire smoke to address the new regulations, although they offer links to other resources at the end of their May 10, 2022, press release on the permanent rules. Review the new rules, get your procedures in order, and finalize your training by July 1, 2022. As the summer heat approaches, you should also review our recent news articles “Prepare for heat illness prevention” and “OREGON: Permanent heat illness rules take effect June 15, 2022.” Contact your Vigilant safety professional if you have any questions about how to protect workers from wildfire smoke.