August California EHS News

By August 9, 2021 No Comments

Workers in California City must wear “Fully Vaccinated” stickers to avoid masks

Montclair City Hall workers in California have been told to wear stickers proving that they are fully vaccinated if they want to work without wearing masks, in a move that’s sparked concerns about people’s rights and medical confidentiality.

The measure followed a decision last month by the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board to back allowing vaccinated staff in many workplaces to stop wearing masks.

Cal/OSHA said that employers must document the vaccination status of staff wanting to be free of face coverings indoors. However, employers aren’t required to keep copies of vaccine cards and it’s up to workers to declare what their inoculation status is, The Los Angeles Times reported.

City workers interviewed said they were happy to sport the little round yellow stickers that say “fully vaccinated,” with Mayor John Dutrey telling Fox he had not received any complaints from staff members or residents.

Authorities in the state are grappling with a new surge in COVID, with medical experts expressing alarm that the cases are almost entirely among unvaccinated people.

Meanwhile, city manager of Pasadena Steve Mermell announced that all city employees will need to be vaccinated against COVID once the shots receive federal approval, the Los Angeles Times reported last week.

Governor Gavin Newsom announced that state employees would need to either get vaccinated against COVID or provide proof of a negative test each week.

Can Cal/OSHA get ahead of next pandemic?

On March 11 of last year, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. But it wasn’t until Dec. 1 when California had regulations in place to slow the spread of the virus on the job according to the San Francisco Chronicle. That’s when workplace safety rules enforced by the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA, took effect.

When the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic on March 11, California reported one death because of the virus. By the time workplace rules took effect by December 2020, well over a hundred people were dying statewide each day.

Part of the difficulty of preparing for the next superbug is that it’s impossible to tell exactly how it will behave. That makes the drawn-out process of getting a permanent aerosol disease standard in place for workplaces all the more complex after the current temporary rule expires.

The state’s standard board does not have a history of moving expeditiously. By comparison, with some of the hottest days on record hitting California this year, the state still doesn’t have a standard to guard against unsafe indoor temperatures at work. A state law passed in recent years gave Cal/OSHA until 2019 to get one on the books. That still hasn’t occurred.

Cal/OSHA: Protect workers from unhealthy air due to wildfire smoke

Cal/OSHA is cautioning California employers to be prepared to protect workers from unhealthy air due to wildfire smoke.

When workers are at risk due to unhealthy air from wildfires, California’s protection from wildfire smoke standard requires employers to take steps such as changing the location of work operations, modifying work schedules or providing proper respiratory protection like N95 respirators.

According to CalFire, there have been more than 4,000 wildfire incidents so far in California in 2021 and more than 100 structures have been damaged. Smoke from these wildfires contains chemicals, gases and fine particles that can harm health.

When wildfire smoke affects a worksite, employers are required to check the air quality index for PM2.5 and throughout the work shift as needed to protect employees.

If the AQI for PM2.5 is 151 or greater, employers must take the following steps to protect employees:

  • Inform employees of the AQI for PM2.5 and the protective measures available to them.
  • Provide effective training and instruction to all employees on the information contained in section 5141.1 Appendix B.
  • Implement modifications to the workplace, if feasible, to reduce exposure. Examples include providing enclosed structures or vehicles for employees to work in, where the air is filtered.
  • Implement practicable changes to work procedures or schedules. Examples include changing the location where employees work or reducing the amount of time they work outdoors or exposed to unfiltered outdoor air.
  • Provide proper respiratory protection equipment, such as disposable respirators, for voluntary use. Respirators must be labeled N-95, N-99, N-100, R-95, P-95, P-99, or P-100, and must be labeled as approved by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

If employers move operations indoors, they must follow Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standards, which require unvaccinated workers to wear face coverings indoors.

If the AQI for PM2.5 exceeds 500 due to wildfire smoke, respirator use is required. Employers must ensure employees use respirators and implement a respiratory protection program as required in California’s respiratory standard.

**** Protect Yourself: Wildfire Smoke Employee Training – Updated to conform with California’s now-permanent standard. The state of Washington is considering a similar law. Click here for the Phylmar Academy Course.****

Firefighters fear disaster ahead as heat transforms landscape

In California, there has been so little rain, and rising temperatures caused by climate change have made the landscape drier than firefighters have ever seen — ready to combust with the smallest spark.

“My first winter here, I was burning piles in thigh-deep snow,” said Christian Bauzo, a firefighter who has been with the Forest Service for 15 years. “Now it’s like, ‘What winter?’ Almost all winter we were fighting fire.”

Bauzo and his crew now respond to at least two wildfires a week. And because it keeps getting hotter, and the landscape has shifted and the dangers have increased, they are having to change how they approach the flames.

Until the 1970s, firefighters in the Angeles National Forest used to follow something called the “10 a.m. rule,” which meant that crews had to put out every wildfire by 10 the morning after a blaze ignited, said Diane Travis, a fuels manager who has been with the Forest Service for more than 30 years.

The notion seems laughable in today’s climate, where many fires grow too fast and too large for that to be a reasonable expectation. Now, crews have no seconds to spare, and have to hit the fires hard before they get out of control.

A century of fire suppression has created a buildup of fuel, while decades of population growth and development have formed new obstacles. And from the ongoing drought to more frequent heat waves, the approach to wildfire management and strategy has had to evolve with the times.

The population of California has quadrupled since the 1950s, according to state data, and with that explosion have come more homes, more construction and far more opportunities for wildfires to ignite.

And while firefighters in more rural states such as Idaho and Montana sometimes have the option of allowing remote wildfires to burn. That’s not so easy in Southern California, where quick-to-ignite fires are rarely far from freeways, power lines or people.

There are other regional factors that add to the area’s challenges, including wildlife habitats, gusty Santa Ana winds and even L.A.’s notorious traffic and media market.

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