Wildfire Smoke: 5 Steps to Help Protect Your Employees and Your Business
Wildfire smoke has created dangerous air quality conditions across much of the U.S. this week, which can have serious health implications for your employees and your business.
Here are five steps you can take to help protect your employees from wildfire smoke and maintain a safe working environment:
- Monitor Air Quality: Stay informed about local air quality conditions by regularly checking reputable sources like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), your local public health department, or using resources such as AirNow.gov. Make informed decisions based on air quality reports to adjust work activities, breaks, and protective measures. Where possible, provide flexible work arrangements that reduce the amount of time employees need to spend outdoors.
- Encourage Masking: Equip employees who work outdoors in smoky conditions with suitable personal protective equipment (PPE), such as N95 or N99 masks. Be sure to train employees on proper usage, fit, and maintenance of masks to avoid health impacts of smoke inhalation.
- Improve Indoor Air Quality: Experts recommend installing high-efficiency air filters in your workplace ventilation systems to help remove fine particles and reduce smoke infiltration. Ventilation, filtration and disinfection have the added benefit of reducing the risk of respiratory infections. We recently spoke with Harvard professor Dr. Joseph Allen about the many benefits of clean indoor air. (For more tips, download our guide Clean Air for a Healthy Workforce.)
- Prioritize the Needs of Workers with Underlying Health Conditions. Workers with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchitis, or other lung diseases are at higher risk. Wildfire smoke can worsen their symptoms and trigger respiratory distress. Working parents should also be made aware that children’s lungs are more sensitive to the harmful effects of wildfire smoke, and may want to reconsider outdoor activities when air quality conditions are poor.
- Develop and Communicate an Emergency Action Plan: If you haven’t done so already, consider creating an emergency action plan for future extreme weather events. Outline steps for different air quality scenarios, such as reducing outdoor work, implementing flexible work arrangements, or relocating operations. Educate employees about the risks of wildfire smoke, signs of smoke-related health issues, and preventive measures they can take to protect themselves.
- American Lung Association
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Occupational Safety & Health Administration