Ready or not, wildfire season is here. And, after the worst fire season on record in California just last year, your employees might be worried about what this one could bring. Are you prepared to address their questions or concerns?
Here are a few frequently asked questions you’re likely to encounter:
When should we evacuate the entire area?
The short answer is: as soon as fire officials recommend you leave. Don’t wait for a mandatory evacuation order. You don’t want your employees caught up in the fire, smoke, or traffic.
Cal/OSHA requires you to have an evacuation plan for your business already in place. Remember to practice it frequently with your employees. Either you or a person that you designate will be in charge of communicating to employees when a workplace evacuation is necessary. You will also need to take into account how best to inform employees of an evacuation. Is your business small enough to where you can alert everyone verbally, or will you need a loudspeaker, intercom, or alarm system? Would text messaging or another method work better for you?
After your employees have evacuated the workplace, they should know to then follow specific directions from fire officials on how to safely exit the area.
Will our building be in danger in the event of a wildfire?
You never really know for sure. But there are some steps you should be taking to protect your workplace from a wildfire. One of those is to maintain at least 100 feet of defensible space—a buffer between the building and flammable vegetation. In certain areas, state, or local law may require more than 100 feet. Some insurance policies covering business properties may require a similar defensible area. Defensible space can slow or stop the spread of wildfire and help prevent the building from catching fire. It also helps California firefighters to better protect your property. Let your employees know the steps you are taking to protect your business. You can visit Cal Fire’s Defensible Space web page to learn more.
There’s smoke out there from a wildfire. What do we do?
Wildfire smoke doesn’t necessarily mean evacuation but still may affect your workplace. In fact, the smoke can spread for miles affecting air quality in communities well beyond the fire zone. If your employees work indoors, remind them that with modern HVAC systems, indoor air quality tends to be better and safer than outside air when there’s smoke. Remember to also talk with building maintenance workers about your system’s recommended filter replacement schedule.
If your employees usually work outdoors, you can consider assigning them indoor tasks until the smoke clears. Whether your employees work indoors or out, now is a good time to stock up on appropriate respirators (rated N95 or above by NIOSH) and information on their proper use, in case employees ask for them when there’s a fire. Lastly, get answers to local air quality questions at AirNow.gov.
No matter the question, being prepared is the answer
Now that fire season has arrived, you might want to take some time with your employees to discuss these and other questions that they might have. And, encourage employees to prepare at home as well so their families know what to do.
If you haven’t prepared a wildfire plan or want to update yours, take a look at some of the resources Cal Fire has including what to do before and after a fire breaks out. Cal Fire also has a smartphone app to help you plan.
The above evaluations and/or recommendations are for general guidance only and should not be relied upon for medical advice or legal compliance purposes. They are based solely on the information provided to us and relate only to those conditions specifically discussed. We do not make any warranty, expressed or implied, that your workplace is safe or healthful or that it complies with all laws, regulations or standards.