Within the last year, California has seen more wildfire damage in its forests and houses than ever. Millions of acres and homes were burned to the ground in just the last couple of months alone. One of the industries most affected is the construction industry. Despite their commitment to build thousands of more houses for current and future Californians to live in, many experts are advising them to avoid building houses in fire-prone areas.
However, several construction companies plan on continuing their work in these conditions. As a construction worker, now is a good time for you to review your wildfire safety protocols for work. While most of the wildfires happened during the latter half of 2018, there were many more throughout the year. With how increasingly unpredictable fires are becoming, you need to be ready to respond to the threat in a moment’s notice.
Review evacuation plans
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states that those working near areas with high risks of wildfires should have a proper evacuation plan in place. OSHA says the plan should include the following:
- What conditions will activate the plan
- A person in charge of evacuating everyone safely
- Which workers get the respective emergency tasks
- What routes and exits to take
- Any procedures to assist nearby residents in the area
- Which equipment to use
- At least one session where all workers review the plan
During the briefing, pay attention to the role you have and update yourself with the newer roles in case they swap from a coworker no longer operating on the site.
OSHA also notes that work sites should have 30-foot safety zones away from buildings and additional 70-foot safety zones when it comes to vegetation. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says that construction workers in wildfire zones should avoid placing flammable vegetation, firewood and combustible materials within the 30-foot zone during construction. FEMA also says workers must ensure the additional zone has a minimal amount of vegetation or fuel within the area.
Know the risks
No matter how far away you are from the wildfire, the environment can be a serious threat to your health. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists the following ways you can tell if the smoke is affecting you as you work or evacuate:
- Excessive coughing
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
- A runny nose
- An irritated throat
- A stinging feeling in your eyes
If you have any preexisting conditions such as heart disease or asthma, the smoke only worsens these symptoms. Once you detect signs that the smoke is hurting your body, grab equipment to help you breathe properly again. Having difficulty breathing can make the daunting task of evacuating the area even more painful.
With many Californian construction workers at risk of wildfire damages now more than ever, it is important to be aware of your legal options in case the flames render you unfit to work.