A guide to wildfire hazards, and how to stay safe
Smoke from wildfires presents a range of hazards for workers in the affected region. It contains chemicals, fine particles, and gases which can prove to be extremely harmful to workers’ health.
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The greatest risk to health comes from breathing in the fine particles. It can:
- Aggravate existing heart and lung conditions
- Cause coughing and wheezing
- Make it difficult to breathe
- Reduce lung function
- Worsen asthma
Employers are required to help protect their workers by implementing certain measures as part of the Injury and Illness Prevention Program. These include:
- Providing filtered ventilation systems for indoor work areas
- Limiting the time that workers are required to spend working outdoors
- Providing respiratory protective equipment, such as disposable filtering face pieces [dust masks] to their employees
Workers remain at risk even once the fires have been extinguished.
Cleanup work in areas damaged or destroyed by fires presents its own hazards. These include but are not limited to:
- Injuries and/or death from electric shock as equipment is turned back on and power lines are reenergized
- Fires re-igniting from smoldering wood and/or debris coming into contact with flammable material[s]
- Leaks in pipes and/or tanks which contain flammable gases
- Unstable structures which can collapse without warning as a result of fire damage
- Falling objects, exposure to hazardous materials, and unexpected collapse of a structure during demolition work
- Carbon monoxide poisoning from the use of gasoline/diesel powered generators, pumps, and pressure washers
- Inhalation of ash, dust, and soot which causes damage to lungs
The risks of injury and death from all such hazards can be mitigated with the use of proper Personal Protective Equipment [PPE], and necessary training and instruction for workers.