Wildfire smoke is an increasing danger to Washington workers. It is made up of harmful chemicals and tiny particles suspended in the air. This smoke can make anyone sick, even healthy individuals.
Wildfire smoke can cause mild symptoms like:
- Stinging eyes
- Runny nose
- Scratchy throat
The smoke can also cause serious and sometimes fatal health effects, including:
- Chest pain and heart attacks
- Asthma attacks
- Trouble breathing
- Reduced lung function
Find information on protect workers from wildfire smoke below.
Smoke levels can change frequently. It is important to know when smoke levels reach a point it becomes dangerous to health and certain protective measures are required to be in place to protect employees working in wildfire smoke.
Use these tools to help you discover how much smoke is in the air
Some common online tools to find current air quality information include:
- AirNow.gov from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- Air Quality Map from the Washington State Department of Ecology, and
- U.S. Forest Service tools
Employers may also use their own air monitoring equipment if it meets specific qualifications.
Air Quality Reporting
Air quality information is reported primarily in two ways:
- Fine particulate matter called PM2.5.
- Air Quality Index, or AQI for PM2.5. AQI factors five major air pollutants including PM2.5 into its measurement.
|PM2.5 in micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3)||Air Quality Index for PM2.5 (AQI)|
|20.5 µg/m3||AQI 69|
|35.5 µg/m3||AQI 101|
|555 µg/m3||Beyond the AQI|
Create a wildfire smoke response plan.
A written plan will help you prepare for when the air quality gets bad.
If possible, limit outdoor work when there are high levels of wildfire smoke.
Some ways to protect workers from wildfire smoke include:
- Changing work schedules or moving work indoors.
- Reducing the physical intensity of the work or increasing rest periods.
- Providing respirators.
Respirators filter the air to protect worker’s lungs.
Properly fitted respirators can significantly reduce a worker’s exposure to wildfire smoke. A common respirator worn to protect workers is an N95.
Bandanas, scarves, facemasks, KN95’s, or t-shirts worn over the nose and mouth will not provide protection against wildfire smoke.
Working in wildfire smoke can make people sick.
Workers need to alert their employer if they experience any health effects from wildfire smoke exposure. In severe cases, workers may need immediate medical treatment.
Wildfire Smoke Emergency Rule, WAC 296-62-085, effective 6/15/2022 through 9/29/2022
In general, the emergency wildfire smoke rule applies when smoke levels are at 20.5 µg/m3 (AQI 69) or higher. Some exemptions include:
- Workplaces in enclosed buildings or vehicles, given certain controls are in place.
- Employees exposed for 1 hour or less of work time per day.
To summarize, the rule requires covered employers to:
- Have a written wildfire smoke response plan.
- Determine employee smoke exposure levels before work and periodically during each shift when smoke is present.
- Train employees on wildfire smoke hazards.
- Train supervisors on how to respond to health issues caused by wildfire smoke.
- Inform employees of available protective measures against wildfire smoke.
When wildfire smoke conditions reach 35.5 µg/m3 (AQI 101) additional requirements include:
- Alert employees of the smoke levels.
- Provide respirators and encourage their use.
- When feasible, limit employee exposures to wildfire smoke.
When smoke levels are at 555 µg/m3 or higher, additional respirator requirements apply.
You can read the full requirements employers need to follow in the Emergency Wildfire Smoke Rule, WAC 296-62-085.
L&I’s safety and health consultants can help you understand if this rule applies to you and how to implement it.
Other L&I Rules
Meeting Workplace Safety & Health Requirements
Use these materials to meet training and written program requirements in the DOSH 2022 wildfire smoke emergency rule.
- Wildfire smoke online training - sample self-paced trainings
- Wildfire smoke Training Kit - sample PowerPoint training for groups
- Wildfire Smoke Response Plan Template.
These resources provide additional information on wildfire smoke.
Air quality information
- AirNow.gov from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
- Air Quality Map from the Washington State Department of Ecology.
- U.S. Forest Service tools, which measure particulate matter in the air.
Cell Phone Apps
General Wildfire Smoke Safety
- Smoke from Fires from the Washington Department of Health contains many resources on wildfire smoke.
- Smoke-Ready Toolbox for Wildfires from the Environmental Protection Agency.
- Wildfire Smoke Safety website has additional smoke resources from the Pacific Northwest Agriculture Safety & Health (PNASH) Center at UW.
Indoor Air Quality
- Improving Ventilation and Indoor Air Quality during Wildfire Smoke Events (Dept. of Health).
2022 Emergency Wildfire Smoke Rule Questions and Answers
Q: When does the rule apply to me?
A: The rule applies to workplaces where the employer should reasonably anticipate that employees may be exposed to a PM2.5 concentration of 20.5 micrograms per cubic meter (AQI for PM2.5 of 69) or more for wildfire smoke. The rule contains an exemption for workplaces and operations with enclosed buildings or structures in which the employer ensures that windows, doors, bays, and other exterior openings are kept closed, except when it is necessary to briefly open doors to enter and exit. The emergency wildfire smoke rule also contains additional information about exemptions.
Q: Does this rule apply to bus drivers or other transit operators?
A: This rule applies to employees working for transit systems in vehicles where the doors open frequently to board and deboard passengers.
Q: How does this rule apply to prescribed burns and managed wildfires?
A: This emergency rule applies when certain levels of wildfire smoke, measured in fine particulate matter (PM2.5), are reached. It does not matter what caused the wildfire smoke.
Identification of harmful exposures
Q: Where can I find the current PM2.5 and the AQI?
A: The Washington State Department of Ecology, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and other entities maintain monitoring stations to measure PM2.5, which can be accessed at the following websites:
- Washington State Department of Ecology: https://enviwa.ecology.wa.gov
- US EPA: www.AirNow.gov
- U.S. Forest Service: https://tools.airfire.org
- Measure yourself with a PM2.5 monitor that meets the criteria in appendix A of the emergency rule.
Note: The AQI can report on multiple types of air pollution. If you are using the AQI, be sure to select PM2.5. Otherwise, you should instead use the current PM2.5 to make sure you are following the requirements of the emergency wildfire smoke rule.
Q: Measuring wildfire smoke is challenging due to the nature of work. What are my options as an employer?
A: You may use the closest monitor to represent your employee exposure to wildfire smoke. Or, after reviewing Appendix A of the Emergency Wildfire Smoke Rule, you may use your own, qualifying direct-reading particulate monitor. You must follow Appendix A in using your direct-reading particulate monitor.
Q: What does current PM2.5 mean?
A: The concentration of PM2.5 for the most current hour available, calculated using an hourly average of PM2.5 data. The NowCast as given by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or Washington Department of Ecology are an acceptable approximation of the current PM2.5.
Q: How do I know I have the most current air quality information and not a 24 hour average?
A: Washington’s Air Monitoring Network has an interactive map where users can see an hourly breakdown of PM2.5 data for any monitoring area. The Washington Department of Ecology or your local clean air agency can also give you detailed air quality information for your area.
Q: What information needs to be included in an employer’s wildfire smoke response plan?
A: The wildfire smoke response plan must include these elements:
- Information on the health effects of wildfire smoke.
- Information on employee rights to obtain medical treatment without fear of reprisal.
- How employees can obtain the current levels of fine particulate matter from wildfire smoke, also called PM2.5.
- The requirements of wildfire smoke emergency rule, WAC 296-62-085.
- The employer's response plan for wildfire smoke including the methods to be used to protect employees from wildfire smoke.
- The importance, limitations, and benefits of using a properly fitted respirator when exposed to wildfire smoke.
- How to properly put on, use, and maintain the respirators provided by the employer.
The wildfire smoke response plan must be tailored to your workplace. A sample template is available in the Training & Resources section of this webpage.
Q: When respirators are required to be provided to employees, can KN95’s be given out instead of respirators?
A: No. KN95 facemasks are not certified as approved respirators by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). KN95 facemasks do not provide sufficient protection from wildfire smoke.
Q: Can you reuse N95 respirators?
A: A best practice is to replace filtering facepiece respirators at the beginning of each shift. Respirators should be replaced if they get damaged, deformed, dirty, or become difficult to breathe through. Filtering facepiece respirators, like N95s, are disposable respirators that cannot be cleaned or disinfected.
Q: If elastomeric respirators are provided by employers for voluntary respirator use or are brought to the workplace by employees for voluntarily respirator use, are there any additional requirements?
A: If elastomeric respirators are used voluntarily by employees, additional requirements from the Respirator rule (chapter 296-842 WAC) apply.
Employees voluntarily wearing filtering facepiece respirators, like N95s, for wildfire smoke only need to be provided with the information in Appendix B.