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Wildfires: Addressing worker concerns

Addressing worker concerns

The multiple wildfires burning across Oregon have raised concerns about the potential impact of smoke on workers and workplaces. Oregon OSHA offers the following tips, information, links, and contacts on a variety of topics related to wildfires:

Wildland firefighters

  • Oregon OSHA maintains minimum safety and health requirements for employers who engage in wildland fire prevention and suppression. The requirements are spelled out in Division 7/Subdivision N
  • It is important to be aware of the limitations of commercial products used for wildland firefighting, such as wildfire face protectors, shield hoods, shrouds, and bandanas. For more information about the limitations, as well as steps employers can take to improve firefighter safety, please read Oregon OSHA’s hazard alert
Pacific Northwest wildfire smoke

Indoor air quality concerns

  • Employers and workers who are concerned about indoor air quality during wildfire season should check a building’s ventilation system to make sure it has received routine maintenance, such as filter changes
  • Workers who are experiencing problems breathing indoors need a way to report their concerns to management so those concerns may be addressed. A safety committee serves such a purpose. Oregon OSHA maintains standards for safety committees and safety meetings.
  • Oregon OSHA offers consultation services, technical expertise, and other resources to employers who may need help in light of the potential workplace hazards brought on by wildfire season. Oregon OSHA encourages employers to take advantage of our no-cost, confidential consultation services, as well as our brochures and pamphlets, and video library.
  • If employees are worried or believe their concerns have not been addressed, they may file a complaint with Oregon OSHA, which will evaluate it. Complaints may be filed online or by calling the nearest field office.

Respirators and filtering facepieces (dust masks)

  • Respirators are an effective method of protection against designated hazards when properly selected and worn
  • It is the employer’s responsibility to evaluate workplace hazards, including respiratory hazards. Once the employer has established that a respiratory hazard does not exist, voluntary respiratory protection may be used – even when exposures are below the exposure limit – if the employer allows it.
  • However, if a respirator is used improperly or not kept clean, the respirator itself can become a hazard to the worker
  • If employers provide respirators for workers’ voluntary use, or workers provide their own respirator, then Oregon OSHA requires employers to take certain steps. Those steps include medically evaluating whether workers are able to wear respirators, and giving workers information about the limitations and proper care of respirators
  • Respirators are not the same as filtering facepieces (dust masks). Medical evaluations are not required for filtering facepieces when the masks are used on a voluntary basis.
  • Filtering facepieces that are not certified by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health are not tested for filtration effectiveness and may not offer a consistent level of protection from particles. This means that they may offer little protection.

For more information, go to the voluntary respirator use fact sheet or visit the respiratory protection fact sheet.

Heat stress

  • Oregon OSHA addresses heat stress issues through rules concerning general environmental controls, extraordinary hazards, sanitation, and personal protective equipment.
  • Oregon OSHA maintains a heat-stress prevention program designed to prevent heat-related illnesses. Under the program, the agency’s enforcement and consultation activities will include a review of employers’ plans to deal with heat exposure, especially from June 15 through Oct. 1.

Other resources

Oregon Smoke Information blog:

DEQ/wildfires and air quality information:

Oregon Department of Forestry fire information: