As everyone is aware, the 150+ forest fires burning across our Province have caused moderate to severe air quality advisories in most areas.
Smoke concentrations will vary as winds, fire behaviour and temperatures change. The situation is expected to persist until the weather changes.
Environment Canada has issued the following statement:
Persons with chronic underlying medical conditions should postpone strenuous exercise until the advisory is lifted. Staying indoors and in air conditioned spaces helps to reduce fine particulate exposure. Exposure is particularly a concern for infants, the elderly and those who have diabetes, and lung or heart disease.
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, contact your health care provider: difficulty in breathing, chest pain or discomfort, and sudden onset of cough or irritation of airways. If you are experiencing symptoms, avoid strenuous outdoor activities, especially along busy traffic corridors.
As an employer, you have a responsibility to ensure a safe working environment for your staff. Since you cannot do anything about the air quality, during these periods of air quality alerts, this responsibility may extend to adjusting the work your outside staff perform, particularly if they have any of the underlying health conditions noted above.
Adjustments may include (but not be limited to): assigning workers with chronic health conditions to lighter work outdoors or to work indoors, or provide shorter work periods with more frequent breaks indoors for all other outside workers. You may also need to increase the number of check-ins for workers working alone or in isolation.
If work must be done outdoors, Personal Protective Equipment (respirators) may help, but in extreme heat may add another hazard for staff. Persons with respiratory ailments may be further affected if using a respirator.
Some useful resources:
Environment Canada Air Quality Health Index: http://www.ec.gc.ca/cas-aqhi/default.asp?lang=En&n=CF257CD8-1
Government of Canada Weather Information (navigate to alerts): www.weather.gc.ca
As always, if we can be of any assistance as you draft procedures to help ensure a safe working environment for your staff, please contact us.
Mike Roberts (firstname.lastname@example.org)