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With massive wildfires sweeping throughout much of California, the state's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) branch is offering tips to protect firefighters from injury and illness.

On its website, Cal/OSHA says that employers of firefighters and workers associated with wildfire fighting and cleanup efforts must provide their workers with the right personal protective equipment (PPE). According to Cal/OSHA, one of the most important pieces of PPE for this type of work is respiratory protective equipment. A dust mask, for example, is an otherwise simple type of PPE that can protect firefighters and cleanup workers from accidental inhalation of particle matter and soot.

Cal/OSHA says that dust masks and other respiratory protective equipment should be certificated and approved for use by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). If a dust mask or respiratory doesn't feature this certification, the employer should choose a different protect for his or her workers.

It's also important for firefighters and cleanup workers to use caution when handling burnt trees, homes and other structures. Even if a structure is no longer on fire, it may still be hot enough to cause second- or third-degree burns. To protect against burns, workers should wear gloves and only handle burnt items and structures after they've been doused with water.

"Wildfire smoke and cleanup presents hazards that employers and workers in affected regions must understand. Smoke from wildfires contains chemicals, gases and fine particles that can harm health. Hazards continue even after fires have been extinguished and cleanup work begins," wrote Cal/OSHA on its official website.

Wildfires aren't going to stop; they are an integral part of Mother Nature. However, firefighters and cleanup workers can protect themselves from injury and illness by wearing the right PPE.

Of course, providing workers with PPE is a requirement for all employers, not just firefighters. Different industries require different PPE. In the construction industry, for example, workers may need impact-resistant eyewear, hard hats, and steel-toe boots. In the automotive painting industry, workers may need a respiratory and protective suit. If you're an employer, it's your responsibility to provide workers with the appropriate PPE for their job. Failure to do so not only increases the risk of work-related injury and illness but also leaves your company susceptible to fines and penalties. So, don't make the mistake of overlooking PPE for workers. Provide each and every worker with the appropriate PPE for their job.

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