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Should wildfires spark air quality concerns in workers?

There are plenty of worries that come with wildfires. The path of destruction can leave a long trail of sorrow, but those in the wake aren’t the only ones suffering. The blazes across the West Coast can turn the very air into a serious health hazard for those that can’t escape it.

Outdoor workers are in the high-risk category when it comes to wildfires, and construction workers fit the bill. Even with the blazes miles away, you could be in serious trouble if you’re still showing up to the construction site in the haze.

Igniting concern

Following the fires that hit the West Coast in 2018, the University of Washington School of Public Health highlighted the dangers of constantly breathing the smoke that covered the coast. Construction workers were singled out as a group that faced potentially life-threatening exposure due to the nature of the job:

  • No air filtration for outdoor sites
  • Long, uninterrupted workdays with smoke-filled air
  • Hard work that increases the rate of breathing

Inhaling the particles and gases that make up the smoke can lead to respiratory troubles that are severe enough to lead to emergency room visits and even death. While it may not be as easy to explain the amount of damage from inhaling smoke as it is to count the cost of property damage from fires, it isn’t impossible.

Stoking hazards

A pair of professors from Stanford University used conservative estimates to put a number on the damage from inhalation during the most recent series of fires. The numbers show that the smoke could cause thousands of additional deaths, and double that number in hospital visits that wouldn’t have happened without this round of fires.

Watching the flames engulf California, kicking off one emergency evacuation after another, is hard enough. But having to risk your health just to go to work every day comes with costs of its own. It’s important you understand what happens with smoke inhalation at the job site every day.