Wildfire and extreme heat season is here: do you know when you should close your patio?
It’s become almost a yearly event. Smoke from nearby wildfires hangs over the area, creating hazardous conditions for anyone working or enjoying the outdoors. Cities across the state often wake up to smoky conditions during hot summer months. Since the pandemic began earlier in 2020, more and more restaurants have relied on outdoor seating. So, how can you know when the air is too unhealthy for workers and your guests?
Remember: health officers have the authority to shut down any outdoor event or space when air quality is unhealthy.
On June 1, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries enacted new emergency rules that are in effect from June 15-Sept. 29, 2022. These new rules require additional training for employees working outside in high temperatures.
This is in addition to the training workers should have already received on the state’s permanent Outdoor Heat Exposure rule. Employers who need to update their workers but have already provided heat safety training this year can opt to use the new Safety Orientation training resource available in English, Spanish and Russian.
Training resources on L&I’s Be Heat Smart webpage have been updated to the 2022 emergency rule requirements.
What you need to know
Download the following photo, print it out and post in your office to remind everyone when it is time to close the patio.
In its newsletter, Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency recently included an article from former Spokane Regional Health District Health Officer Bob Lutz that explains the hazards of smoky air.
“Smoke from wildfires is a complex mixture of substances that includes water vapor, heavy metals, hydrocarbons, gases such as carbon monoxide and ozone, and particulates.
“While the general effects of smoke often irritate the eyes, nose and throat, the greatest concern is caused by the smallest particles, PM2.5. These can get deep into the lungs, be absorbed into the blood and cause inflammation throughout the body. Their effects can worsen pre-existing conditions, such as asthma, COPD, and heart disease. Additionally, infants and children, adults over age 65 and pregnant women are at increased risk from exposure. And those who cannot get out of the smoke, such as individuals living homeless, are likewise impacted.
“The reality, however, is that everyone is at risk, because there is no safe level of PM2.5. Studies have shown increased healthcare visits as well as increased hospitalizations and even deaths, both during and soon after periods of poor air quality from wood smoke.”
Useful websites during wildfire events:
- Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency’s air quality index
- Puget Sound Clean Air Agency: Wildfire smoke
- Other clean air agencies in Washington
- Department of Ecology, State of Washinton’s air quality map of the state
- Department of Ecology: Smoke & fire management
- Washington Smoke Blog
- Department of Labor & Industries “Wildfire smoke and Washington Workers“
- Department of Natural Resources map of current wildfires
It’s important to note that air quality sites don’t report the air quality in real-time, but an average of the last 24 hours.
How do you know when to close your patio?
According to the Department of Labor & Industries:
“The AQI indicates when the outdoor air quality is ‘unhealthy,’ ‘very unhealthy,’ or ‘hazardous.’ These ratings signal when healthy workers may begin to experience adverse health effects. Additional factors to consider when determining if the outdoor air is harmful include how long workers are outside, the level of physical exertion, symptoms consistent with wildfire smoke exposure, and pre-existing medical conditions.”
When air quality is in the unhealthy range, you will want to check your HVAC system’s filters–the higher MERV, the better. You will also want to check all the doors and windows to make sure they have good seals. The idea is to minimize the amount of air coming into your restaurant or hotel. For more information on indoor air quality, read this flyer from the Washington State Department of Health.
Watch this video: How to make a clean air fan