Flash Report: Green Light for Emergency Rules on Wildfire Smoke

Overruling a staff recommendation on protecting outdoor workers from wildfire smoke, the Cal/OSH Standards Board authorized the emergency rulemaking beginning right away.  Staff wanted an advisory committee to decide if an emergency rule is necessary.

The vote came after two hours of testimony from stakeholders, including chants of “save our lives” from day laborers. Several labor groups petitioned the board in the wake of the Camp Fire in Paradise last year, which sent plumes of smoke throughout Northern California, casting a pall over much of the north state for two weeks.

DOSH had supported emergency rulemaking, but board staff said the rulemaking request had “inherent flaws,” including the use of the Air Quality Index (AQI) to trigger protections. Staff said it would be preferable to develop a permissible exposure limit for particulate matter 2.5, tiny particles in the smoke that contain toxic materials, and which could cause adverse health effects. AQI values should not be compared to PELs, it reasoned.

But Mitch Steiger, legislative advocate for the California Labor Federation, said using the AQI “is better than nothing, which is what we have now,” and creating PELs, or standards in general for that matter, takes years to complete. “Absent action,” he said “a lot of workers are going to suffer.”

Once DOSH publishes its proposed emergency rule, the public will have five days to comment and the state Office of Administrative Law will have 10 days to review it. Cal/OSHA can but is not required to respond to stakeholder comments. Once the rule is approved it will be effective for 180 days and can be adopted for two subsequent 90-day periods.

Cal/OSHA also intends to work on a permanent regulation on wildfire smoke protections.