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How to reduce employee exposure to wildfire smoke

September 17, 2020
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Employers should limit outdoor work and explore respirator alternatives during shortage

Denver — Sept. 17, 2020— As wildfire season continues, Pinnacol Assurance, the leading workers’ compensation carrier in the state, urges employers to protect outdoor workers from the harmful health effects of wildfire smoke.

Pinnacol’s occupational safety experts note that when air quality is poor, employers should consider limiting the time that workers spend outdoors. Pinnacol’s experts also assert that while it’s a peak time for seasonal occupations, employees who spend extended time outside breathing unhealthy air may be exposed to a complex mixture of air pollutants that could impose risks to their safety and health.

“The best way to reduce employee exposure to wildfire smoke is to limit outdoor work,” said Joan Brown, Pinnacol’s senior industrial hygienist.“Only perform essential tasks, and allow frequent breaks indoors in clean air,especially when smoke levels are high. If that’s not possible, employers should consider providing respiratory protection, such as N95 respirators that protect against wildfire smoke and reduce the spread of COVID-19. If N95s are in short supply, employers should explore alternative strategies for respiratory protection to keep workers safe.”

Brown also cautioned that cloth face masks offer little protection against the air pollutants in wildfire smoke because they do not capture most small particles present in smoke.

Employers should monitor air quality conditions and create a plan for employees who are sensitive to poor air quality, such as those with cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as for older and pregnant workers.

Pinnacol offers a library of resources to help protect your employees, including wildfire safety resources and free virtual safety consultations to all Colorado businesses.

COVID-19 policy update