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Workers' compensation: Wildfire smoke poses health hazards

With the raging wildfires in California, workers in Encino and other Los Angeles neighborhoods face severe health hazards due to the toxic quality of the air they breathe. Although the state-regulated workers' compensation system will likely provide financial assistance to employees who suffer illness or injury on the job, employers must protect workers from harm. The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health provides guidelines for limiting exposure.

The most significant hazard is the inhalation of wildfire smoke because it contains harmful fine particles along with toxic gases and chemicals. The chemicals and gases can cause wheezing, coughing and breathing problems, and the minuscule particles can impair lung function. Workers with existing asthma or other lung or heart conditions will be extremely vulnerable.

Although outdoor workers are at the highest risk, employers must also protect indoor workers by implementing feasible modifications to ensure vehicles and enclosed work areas have proper air filtration systems. Adapting work schedules to limit outdoor work might help, and workers who have to be outside must be equipped with respirators. However, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) must approve respiratory equipment.

California workers who suffer the consequences of wildfire smoke exposure must seek medical treatment as soon as possible, and report their conditions to their employers. This will set the ball rolling for filing workers' compensation benefits claims. Many injured or ill workers choose to secure the services of an experienced workers' compensation attorney to assist with the claims process to cover medical expenses and lost wages.

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