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California bill seeks to protect farmworkers from wildfire smoke

Those who work outdoors in California already have to deal with temperatures that regularly get into the 80s and 90s during the summer. That’s why California law details requirements for employers who have outdoor workforces. These requirements include things like the availability of fresh water and shade, sufficient rest breaks and training in how to spot signs of heat-related illness.

Outdoor workers in parts of California where wildfires are burning face the additional danger of inhaling smoke and the toxic particles it may contain. Wildfire smoke can easily affect air quality miles away from the fires.

The Farmworker Wildfire Smoke Protections Act

That’s why California lawmakers have drafted a bill called the Farmworker Wildfire Smoke Protections Act. Farm and agricultural workers are often among the most vulnerable and exploited workers in the state.

The proposed legislation would require employers to give their workers N95 masks. One Central California farmer says, “What these N95 masks do is they help reduce the number of particulates, the amount of smoke that can actually get in and get into folks’ lungs.” The bill also requires Cal/OSHA to provide wildfire safety information in English and Spanish.

One assembly member said that while most Californians have had the option to stay or at least go inside this summer to escape the heat and smoke-filled air, “farming and agricultural workers remained outdoors in smoky fields and orchards, harvesting and producing the crops that helped feed our state, and help feed our country. We must do all we can to ensure that our farm and agricultural workers are not risking their health and well-being.”

Bill still has a long way to go

The bill still needs to make it through both the Assembly and Senate before being presented to Gov. Gavin Newsom for his signature. It remains to be seen if similar requirements will be sought for other outdoor workers who also have to breathe in dangerous amounts of smoke.

If you work outdoors and have been harmed by exposure to smoke from burning fires on the job, it’s crucial that you learn about the workers’ compensation benefits to which you’re entitled and other potential options to get the money you need for medical bills and other financial needs.