Safety in Construction Wildfire Season
Updated: Feb 10
Pardon our dust.
It's been a tough week in the West, so we interrupt our regularly scheduled Construction Augmented Reality programming to talk about Jobsite Safety during Construction Wildfire Season.
Summer meant "Construction Season" in my house growing up.
These days, it's a lot more complicated. First it was Covid, and now it's Wildfires that have shut down construction jobs all over our region. The resulting blanket of smoke that has hung over us for the last week and a half has reached hazardous levels.
So welcome to Construction Wildfire Season. It's worth reminding ourselves what's safe, and what's not when it comes to Site Safety in these "Unprecedented" times.
Wildfires have their own special place in the code for Western states. In Oregon, employers need to stop outdoor work on sites with Air Quality Index at or above 151; or have a respirator trained workforce. Not to be doom and gloom girl, but it might be worth preparing for next year's fire season by respirator training more of the workforce.
"But it doesn't feel like it's permanently damaging my lungs."
We all know this guy on the jobsite. Look--we're all very impressed with your pain threshold, Todd, but we're concerned about the fine particles that, over time can damage even the most macho of lungs. "The greatest hazard comes from breathing fine particles in the air, which can reduce lung function, worsen asthma and other existing heart and lung conditions, and cause coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing." --California Department of Industrial Relations. Employers lead the way here--and lung safety is just as critical as the rest of it.
Now, here is my final pitch, directly to the person who hates wearing masks:
Irritated lungs cough. Coughing is the new farting. When you hear one, your only thought becomes "Run away before it reaches me!" No one wants to hear you cough. If you can't do it for your lungs, do it for the social pressure.
"Do I wear a Covid mask or a Fire mask?"
Great question. My seven year old, a mini construction worker himself, wants to build his fort outside. I tell him, yes if you wear a mask. Though this is his first fire and Covid season, he now knows to ask--"Covid Mask or Fire Mask?"
Wear the right kind of mask for the job. Your Covid masks, which reduce the amount of droplets that are flung through the air when talking and breathing, aren't sufficient to filter out the fine particulates in wildfire smoke. For smoke you'll need a minimum of an N-95 mask, properly fitted, no gaps.
Which brings us finally to the combined impacts of Covid and Wildfires. We know that less healthy lungs are more susceptible to the disease. Working hard outdoors makes construction workers more vulnerable, so do take care of yourself. You're worth it.
Our wild ride this year of 2020 may be a new kind of normal. It's not out of nowhere bad luck, it is the fulfillment of climate change and even pandemic warnings we've received for years. Our industry will need to adapt.
We'll need to proactively train our workforce on lung protection, become even better at preventing accidental fires on site, and remember our workforce, particularly in rural areas, may be directly impacted by evacuation orders.
I don't like it either.
Well folks, it's been a real hoot playing the "Why Will I Shut Down Business This Month?" game, but we're hoping for a smoother end to 2020.
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