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Protecting Employees from Wildfire Smoke

A how-to guide for employers, including restaurants, to protect employees from unhealthy air

The northeastern US has the worst air quality in the country right now as wildfire smoke from Canadian fires turns skies orange and threatens the health of anyone who spends prolonged time outside. These conditions are expected to stick around through Saturday, so here are some tips to protect your employees. 

Source: AirNow.gov

What does poor air quality do to a person’s health?

High pollution in the air can affect everyone, even those who are quite healthy. They may experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Irritated eyes

Those who have underlying respiratory and cardiac conditions, like asthma, are more likely to experience asthma attacks or chest pain. Pregnant people, elderly people, young kids, and those with health conditions are at higher risk. 

Do we have a legal obligation to protect employees from smoke? 

In California, poor air quality is considered a hazard under CalOSHA, with specific requirements. For most other states, there aren’t specific air quality standards, but you should still double check with your legal team. 

What can we do to protect employees?

Reduce outdoor time

  • Consider moving your outdoor curbside and drive-through team members indoors.
  • If employees must be outside, offer more frequent breaks.
  • If there’s a strenuous task that requires outdoor work (like moving tables inside at the end of the day) consider skipping it or rescheduling it. 
  • Forecasts are available to predict more and less smoky times. Use those to schedule outdoor work when there’s less smoke.

Provide any type of N95 mask

  • Provide N95 masks (or KN95, KF94 or similar) for any employees spending time outside or near open windows - the same ones you use for COVID will work just fine! 

Recirculate your HVAC

  • Close windows and doors to limit outside air.
  • Turn your HVAC or Air Conditioning to re-circulating mode.
  • Use additional air filters if you have them!

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Disclaimer: This post is meant for general information and educational purposes only and does not constitute, and is not intended as, any form of medical, legal or regulatory advice or a recommendation or suggestion regarding the same.  No recipient of this information should act or refrain from acting on the basis of this information without first seeking legal advice from counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.