California Wildfires Trigger Employer Emergency Action Plans

California Wildfires Trigger Employer Emergency Action Plans

As devastating wildfires spread through Northern California's wine country, threatening to destroy homes and businesses in the area, organizations must activate their workplace safety and emergency action plans.

We've rounded up the latest news on how the fires are affecting employers. Here are SHRM Online resources and news articles from other trusted media outlets.

The wildfires have spread rapidly since Sunday evening through Napa, Santa Rosa and Sonoma counties. The destruction has left more than 15 dead, caused about 20,000 to evacuate and ruined more than 1,500 structures—including homes, wineries and other businesses.

(The New York Times)

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Through Emergency and Disaster]

Fires Hit Crops at End of Harvest Season

Napa and Sonoma county wine-country workers would ordinarily be picking and processing ripe grapes on Oct. 9 at the end of the harvest. Instead, many wineries were closed due to power outages, evacuation orders and roadblocks that kept employees from getting to work. A few wineries in the area have been destroyed and many others have been damaged after the wind-fueled fires spread at a rapid pace. The Napa Valley Vintners trade association said that most of the grapes had already been picked, but it's hard to say how smoke and other damage will affect the crops this year. "I think we'll be OK, but it's not an ideal situation," said Alisa Jacobson, vice president of winemaking at Joel Gott Wines. "But more importantly, all our employees seem to be doing OK."

(The Chicago Tribune)

Employee Safety Is First Priority

A natural disaster can hit suddenly, and employers should know in advance how to account for workers. Local fire authorities ordered Medtronic, a global medical technology company, to evacuate several of its facilities in Santa Rosa on Oct. 9, because of their proximity to the fires. Medtronic initiated its business continuity plans and a spokesman said the company is keeping in contact with workers. The company also had to activate emergency preparedness plans last month when its manufacturing facilities in Puerto Rico were affected by Hurricane Maria. "We are closely monitoring the wildfires in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County, and our first priority is the safety of our employees, many of whom are being evacuated," the spokesman said.

(Minnesota Star Tribune)

Employers Must Be Prepared

October marks the start of fire season in California—and fire dangers pose a threat to more than just the northern part of the state. In Southern California, Santa Ana winds—that originate inland and move west—bring winds, dust, dryness and fires toward the coast. Employers should be prepared for a natural disaster caused by such conditions by keeping emergency supplies on hand, developing evacuation plans and ensuring that workers leave promptly when there's a threat. Employers should also know the legal risk-management requirements for their locations. In Ventura County, for example, property owners in fire-prone areas must remove brush that is within 100 feet of a structure.

(Ventura County Star)

California Marijuana Growers Also Harmed

Medical (and soon recreational) marijuana use is legal in California, and the northern part of the state has the world's largest concentration of cannabis farms. Sonoma county surveys estimate that there are between 3,000 and 9,000 cannabis gardens in the county—which are now threatened by the wildfires. Not only are crops being destroyed just before the harvest, but smoke-exposed crops are vulnerable to disease and unhealthy levels of mold, mildew and fungus. CannaCraft, a Santa Rosa cannabis manufacturer employs 110 workers—but it shut down on Monday and told employees to stay home. For employees who couldn't go home, the manufacturer opened its headquarters (located outside the evacuation zone) as an evacuation center.

(SF Gate)

State Encourages All Businesses to Have a Plan

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) says it's a good idea for all businesses to have an emergency action plan, even if such a plan isn't explicitly required under Cal/OSHA or city or county law. The division suggests that employers form an emergency committee that involves different department representatives and a mix of employees and managers. Plans should address state and local safety laws and must comply with governmental agency regulations.

(California Department of Industrial Relations)


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