Wildfire Smoke

Wildfire Smoke

Wildfire smoke is an increasing danger to Washington workers. It is made up of harmful chemicals and tiny particles suspended in the air. This smoke can make anyone sick, even healthy individuals.

Wildfire smoke can cause mild symptoms like:

  • Coughing
  • Stinging eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Scratchy throat

The smoke can also cause serious and sometimes fatal health effects, including:

  • Chest pain and heart attacks
  • Asthma attacks
  • Trouble breathing
  • Reduced lung function

Find information on protect workers from wildfire smoke below.

Overview

The 2021 wildfire smoke emergency rule expired on 11/13/2021. New rulemaking is currently being conducted to ensure workers continue to be protected.

Use these tools to help you discover how much smoke is in the air

Smoke levels can change frequently. It is important to know when smoke levels reach a point they become dangerous to health. There are many useful sources of real-time air quality information. Some common online tools include:

Ways of measuring air quality

There are two main ways air quality is measured. One measurement is called PM2.5, which stands for particulate matter small enough to reach the lower parts of the lungs. The other way of measuring air quality is called Air Quality Index, or AQI. The AQI factors in five major air pollutants into its measurement. No matter which measurement you use, additional work precautions may need to be taken when air quality worsens.

If possible, avoid going outside during times of poor air quality

Some ways you can improve indoor air quality include keeping windows closed and using portable high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) cleaners.

Respirators filter the air to protect worker’s lungs

If outdoor work cannot be avoided, a properly selected respirator can significantly reduce a worker’s exposure to wildfire smoke. A common respirator that can protect workers is an N95, otherwise known as a filtering facepiece respirator.

Bandanas, scarves, facemasks, or t-shirts worn over the nose and mouth will not provide protection against wildfire smoke.

Responding to health effects from wildfire smoke

Workers need to alert their employer if they experience any health effect from wildfire smoke exposure. In severe cases, workers may need immediate medical treatment. Employers cannot retaliate against an employee for reporting an air quality hazard, an adverse health effect, or for seeking medical treatment due to a work-related illness or injury.

Requirements & Policies

Wildfire Smoke Emergency Rule, WAC 296-62-085(Spanish translation)
Effective 7/6/2021 through 11/13/2021

The Wildfire Smoke Rulemaking page contains information about how to be involved in the new wildfire smoke rulemaking process.

In general, the prior wildfire smoke rule required covered employers to:

  • Include wildfire smoke precautions in their Accident Prevention Program. A template has been provided to guide employers in effectively implementing these precautions.
  • Determine employee exposure to PM2.5 before and periodically during each shift when smoke is present.
  • Train employees who work near wildfire smoke with PM2.5 levels of 20.5 μg/m3 (AQI 69) or more. Sample training is available.
  • Inform employees of available protective measures against wildfire smoke.
  • Encourage employees to report worsening air quality and any health effects resulting from poor air quality.
  • Be prepared to respond appropriately to any employee with symptoms of wildfire smoke exposure.

When wildfire smoke conditions are particularly severe (minimum AQI 151, PM2.5 55.5 µg/m3), employers must:

  • Alert employees of the air quality hazard.
  • Implement feasible exposure controls to protect workers from wildfire smoke.
  • Provide respirators and encourage their voluntary use.

Other L&I Rules

Training & Resources

Meeting Workplace Safety & Health Requirements

Use these materials to meet training and written program requirements in L&I Safety & Health rules.

These resources provide additional information on wildfire smoke.

General Wildfire Smoke Safety

Indoor Air Quality

Workers Compensation


For topic-specific information, see also: