Washington protects workers from wildfire smoke

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New regulations will require employers in Washington State to protect outdoor workers from wildfire smoke. KING5 News reported that the new regulations will take effect next month, making Washington the third state to establish year-round smoke protections for people who work outdoors. California and Oregon were the first two states to enact regulations.

“Wildfire smoke events have continued to happen in Washington state over the last five-plus years, seeming to be very consistent throughout the state each summer,” said Ryan Allen, senior program manager for the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) at the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.

Wildfire smoke can cause short and long-term health problems. “Our primary pollutant of impact is the PM2.5,” Allen said. “It can get into the small recesses of your lungs and start causing damage within the lung itself.”

Starting in January the department will be enforcing year-round workplace protections for those who work outdoors in Washington. The primary petitioner in this case was the United Farm Workers Union; the initiative was advocated primarily by the community of agricultural workers. Emergency rules were enacted in several states during smoky conditions, but now the rule in Washington will be in effect all year round.

Efforts that employers must make during smoky conditions range based on air quality, and they include providing respiratory protection, requiring N95 masks, and requiring immediate medical attention and relocating the person to clean air when experiencing symptoms of smoke exposure.

Source NM reported that a study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that 87 percent of Americans experienced more days of heavy smoke in 2021 than they had in 2011. The change was marked east of the Mississippi River in states including New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania — and Western states including Arizona, California, Colorado, and Washington. Eastern and Midwestern states this year were subjected to far more smoke than usual from the record-breaking fires in Canada.

Wildfire smoke contains an unpredictable mix of vaporized chemicals and microscopic particles that can enter the bloodstream when inhaled. The dangers have increased from the days of “forest fires” burning mostly trees and other vegetation; wildland/urban interface fires now often include smoke from burning plastics, construction materials, vehicles, outdoor equipment, and other hazardous fuels.

Dense smoke from the 2020 Beachie Creek Fire in Oregon
 Dense smoke from the 2020 Beachie Creek Fire in Oregon. Inciweb photo.

Even at low levels, pollution from wildfire smoke can irritate the eyes and respiratory tracts of particularly sensitive people including children, older adults, and those with preexisting respiratory or cardiovascular conditions. At higher levels, pollutants in smoke can cause heart attacks and damage lung function.

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8 thoughts on “Washington protects workers from wildfire smoke”

  1. Just a couple thoughts on the article and dialogue around firefighters and smoke exposure.
    I don’t think most people know that R6 of the USFS enacted smoke protection a couple years back. The work was a collaboration between the smoke folks at RO/WO, the RMO, the Regional Safety and the RFDs staff. It closely followed the CA and OR worker protections in that when heavy smoke is present firefighters can request and receive N95 masks. Not perfect but certainly some protection. I’ll have to look for the original document signed by the RF, but I’m on my mobile while traveling right now.
    Additionally, there are longer term efforts underway for a more robust and lightweight respiratory protection package. Certainly not on the protective scale of an SCBA but I would say very good protection from most of the dangers in wildfire smoke. Some of the testing for that occurred last summer and I am extremely hopeful for their deployment soon. I don’t believe they’ll be useful during hiking or hotline, but for mop-up and holding I’m cautiously optimistic.

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  2. No doubt! And again, it’s another example of the USFS/BLM dropping the ball. Why aren’t they taking care of their employees? They just send the IMT to a hazardous area and they can take all of the credit for the USFS response, with none of the accountability or risk. And they try to call themselves leaders haha. All the credit, no risk… must be nice!

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    1. Getting credit for the job, of course, was not on the list of reasons any of those team members flew back there and did what they did. One team has already lost FIVE members. It’s a bloody shame the fed government and its “providers” have not taken care of these people!

      WATCH THIS:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oplNm4Qt0pQ

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      1. Sorry Kelly, I meant to reply to your reply. I was saying the WO got credit for sending IMTs to NYC (lots of pats on the back in their offices, no doubt), but they didn’t have to take on any of the risk or after effects. Of course, the IMT members did the work and took the risks, and then got left to deal with the consequences alone.

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        1. Very good point, you are exactly right. I attended a PIO conference the year later and several of the IMT members were there and did a presentation on their experience at Ground Zero. Rudy Giuliani was mayor 🥴 back when he was a good guy. The IMT people had to do the presentation as a tag team because they couldn’t get too far without their voices cracking. There was not a dry eye in the place. I think I have never seen or heard something so horrifying and heart-rending as their stories about that trip …
          A few notes from IC Joe Stutler:
          “Reflections From Ground Zero”

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  3. And many bitch about DOL and OSHA …
    Land management agencies, basing things on “science and safety” on top of the 10 and 18 OUGHT to KNOW and LEAD the charge based on science.

    Science is more than what you are charged with and it’s time leadership gets with the times.

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  4. It’s shocking that in 2023 the federal government (US Forest Service and DOI/BLM) don’t acknowledge that wildfire smoke is a health risk, and take no mitigation measures to limit smoke exposure for their Wildland Firefighters. Totally wild.

    At least the DOL (without USFS/DOI) has moved independently to acknowledge cancer is a work injury.

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    1. RIGHT ON, Ben — also amazing, the difficulties experienced by IMT members who responded after 9/11 … without Jon Stewart’s help battling Mitch McConnell, the first responders during those dark days would probably still be without help. A surprising number of wildland firefighters on those teams have died or are ill with fatal medical problems.

      Jon Stewart smirking at McConnell after winning 9/11 benefits

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