Research Portal

July 1, 2022

Potential Impacts Of Washington State’s Wildfire Worker Protection Rule On Construction Workers.

Zuidema, Christopher; Austin, Elena; Cohen, Martin A.; Kasner, Edward; Liu, Lilian; Isaksen, Tania Busch; Lin, Ken-Yu; Spector, June; Seto, Edmund. (2022). Potential Impacts Of Washington State’s Wildfire Worker Protection Rule On Construction Workers. Annals Of Work Exposures & Health, 66(4), 419 – 432.

View Publication


Driven by climate change, wildfires are increasing in frequency, duration, and intensity across the Western United States. Outdoor workers are being exposed to increasing wildfire-related particulate matter and smoke. Recognizing this emerging risk, Washington adopted an emergency rule and is presently engaged in creating a permanent rule to protect outdoor workers from wildfire smoke exposure. While there are growing bodies of literature on the exposure to and health effects of wildfire smoke in the general public and wildland firefighters, there is a gap in knowledge about wildfire smoke exposure among outdoor workers generally and construction workers specifically-a large category of outdoor workers in Washington totaling 200,000 people. Several data sources were linked in this study-including state-collected employment data and national ambient air quality data-to gain insight into the risk of PM2.5 exposure among construction workers and evaluate the impacts of different air quality thresholds that would have triggered a new Washington emergency wildfire smoke rule aimed at protecting workers from high PM2.5 exposure. Results indicate the number of poor air quality days has increased in August and September in recent years. Over the last decade, these months with the greatest potential for particulate matter exposure coincided with an annual peak in construction employment that was typically 9.4-42.7% larger across Washington counties (one county was 75.8%). Lastly, the 'encouraged' threshold of the Washington emergency rule (20.5 mu g m(-3)) would have resulted in 5.5 times more days subject to the wildfire rule on average across all Washington counties compared to its 'required' threshold (55.5 mu g m(-3)), and in 2020, the rule could have created demand for 1.35 million N-95 filtering facepiece respirators among construction workers. These results have important implications for both employers and policy makers as rules are developed. The potential policy implications of wildfire smoke exposure, exposure control strategies, and data gaps that would improve understanding of construction worker exposure to wildfire smoke are also discussed.


Particulate Matter; Industrial Safety; Occupational Exposure; Rules; Smoke; Construction Industry; Employment; Occupational Hazards; Descriptive Statistics; Industrial Hygiene; Wildfires; N95 Respirators; Washington (state); Forest Fires; Pm 2.5; Respirator; Wildfire Smoke Protection Rule; Wildland Fire; Pm2 5; Health Impacts; Climate-change; Forest-fire; Exposure; Firefighters; Infiltration