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Wildfire Smoke Exposure & Workers’ Compensation

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Hundreds of wildfires raging through Eastern Canada have been creating hazardous air conditions in much of the eastern and northern pars of the U.S., leading to postponements of outdoor events, a return to remote learning for some schools, and growing health concerns.

On Thursday, May 8th, officials issued air quality warnings across a broad swath of the U.S., from New York to Indiana and as far south as the Carolina. In New York and New Jersey, where cities are recording some of the worst air quality readings in decades, residents are dealing with nearly unprecedented levels of air pollution and are receiving strong warnings from officials like Gov. Phil Murphy.

Staying Safe When Wildfire Smoke Causes Poor Air Quality

Smoke from wildfires can pose serious health risks, from causing discomfort in your eyes and ears and irritating your respiratory system to worsening chronic heart and lung diseases. Children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with lung and heart conditions are most likely to get sick.

So how can you keep yourself and your loved ones safe when air quality is affected by wildfire smoke? The CDC has a few recommendations:

  1. Keep tabs on air quality reports. If wildfire smoke is impacting your area, pay attention to the news, public health alerts, and air quality reports. Air quality can change quickly so make sure you are up to date.
  2. Heed warnings and stay indoors if advised. If officials in your area have issued warnings to stay indoors and limit time outdoors, follow those warnings. Weather permitting, keep all windows and doors shut and run an air conditioner (with the fresh-air intake closed and a clean filter) if you have one. If you don’t have AC and it’s too warm to stay indoors with the windows closed, seek shelter elsewhere.
  3. Use an air filter. Freestanding air filters can filter particles, improve indoor air quality, and protect sensitive individuals, including those with heart disease, asthma, and other respiratory conditions. Follow manufacturer instructions on how to set up and use these devices.
  4. Avoid creating more indoor air pollution. When smoke creates poor air quality conditions, keep your indoor air as clean as possible by not using things that burn, such as candles or fireplaces. You should also avoid smoking indoors and vacuuming, which can kick up particles.
  5. Don’t rely on dust masks. Paper masks commonly found in hardware stores may be effective for large particles like sawdust, but they’re not effective for smoke. A proper-fitting N95 mask will offer some protection, but there are better types of respirators for smoke if you need to work or spend more time outdoors.

Worker Exposure to Wildfire Smoke

Workers who perform jobs outdoors are particularly vulnerable to poor air quality conditions. If you must work outdoors when there is wildfire smoke in the air, speak with your employer about taking precautions. This may include postponing certain jobs or activities, wearing appropriate PPE and respirators, taking frequent breaks indoors, and more.

Unfortunately, even the most workers can suffer harm from exposure to wildfire smoke. If someone suffers a significant exposure arising out of the course of their employment, they may be entitled to treatment, temporary disability benefits and permanency benefits through Worker’s Compensation.

At Levinson Axelrod, our workers’ compensation team represents workers across the state in a range of matters involving work-related injuries. If you have questions about workplace injuries involving wildfire smoke and air pollution, we can help. Call (732) 440-3089 to speak with an attorney.

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