Wildfire season is upon us, and in the last few weeks, we've experienced smoke, hazy skies and severely reduced air quality. Canada is no stranger to wildfires thanks to its large acres of forests. But according to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the country is experiencing its worst wildfire season in recorded history. This year the blazes began much earlier, have been much more intense and have consumed more land area than they typically would.
At their peak, over 400 wildfires were burning at the same time. Most of these fires were in New Brunswick, Quebec, British Columbia, Alberta, and Nova Scotia, but their effects are felt throughout the country. Not only do these fires impact Canadians' quality of life, but they also have negative effects on business operations.
Wildfires are inevitable each year and as a business owner, rather than dreading them, it’s better to learn how they affect your operations and what you can do to maintain the health & safety of your staff during wildfire season.
What causes wildfires?
Wildfires usually have natural causes, the main culprit being lightning. Or they can start because of human carelessness, like leaving campfires unattended, industrial activity, or carelessly discarded cigarettes.
For wildfires to rage and spread as quickly as they have, conditions need to be right, which is why they usually spring up in the summer when the air is dry and hot. Global warming and climate change also contribute to the increase in wildfires as temperatures are now warmer for longer.
Many acres of forests have already burned, thousands of properties have been destroyed, and many people have had to evacuate their homes and means of livelihood. Wildfires usually run from May to October each year, so employers will have to deal with the effects on their businesses for the next few months. That's why knowing how they can affect your business and preparing for it is crucial.
How wildfires can affect your business
Wildfires are part of the forest's natural ecosystem and help to manage its health and diversity. However, when left unchecked, they can have devastating effects on lives and property.
Property — wildfires can affect businesses with buildings or property in their path. It can disrupt business activity if you need to evacuate the building or change your hours of operation because of wildfire activity.
Equipment — your business may not have an office or property in a wildfire path, but if you have equipment in the area, it may get swept up in flames and cost your business thousands to replace.
Assets — If your business has assets like real estate, farmlands, or ranches in areas where wildfires are rampant, they could get burnt and disrupt your business operations.
People — your employees can be affected in many ways. It can range from being physically exposed to smoke or fine particles in the air to dehydration and other health risks if they are in an area polluted by smoke from wildfires.
If you conduct business indoors, it may seem like wildfires won't have much effect on the people aspect of your business, but that's far from the truth. Many things can affect indoor workers during wildfire season. For example, staff members may live in neighborhoods affected by wildfire and have to evacuate or they themselves may experience property damage. Dealing with situations like this can increase absenteeism, resulting in decreased productivity.
How to protect your employees
As an employer, there isn't much you can do to stop wildfires from reaching or affecting your business. But you can take proactive steps to reduce the impact on your business and protect your employees.
Staying informed on local weather updates and public health warnings and checking on employees to make sure they're feeling well (especially employees with respiratory issues) can go a long way.
One of the most impactful things you can do is prepare in advance and put control measures in place to protect your employees from common hazards associated with wildfire.
For businesses that operate outdoors
If you run a business such as construction or landscaping and spend significant time outdoors, here are a few precautions you can take to protect your employees this wildfire season.
- Move work indoors if you can or move to a different location with less exposure to heat and smoke.
- Reschedule work until the air quality improves or the wildfires are contained.
- Slow down work or increase the number of workers on a task to help reduce physical exertion and the risk of inhaling too much polluted air.
- Provide frequent or longer breaks.
- Provide cool drinking water and remind workers to hydrate more even when they aren't thirsty.
- Provide protective equipment like the N95 particulate filtering face mask.
- Provide documentation, tips and training on courses like fire safety awareness, recognizing smoke exposure, using respirators and driving in low visibility.
For businesses that operate indoors
- Ensure all air filters are clean and HVAC systems are working correctly.
- Reduce staff exposure to outdoor air.
- Encourage employees to stay hydrated.
- Make sure all workers know what to do in an emergency and practice evacuation plans often.
All of this can seem overwhelming, but with the right software, staying on top of health and safety measures and manage everyday health & safety tasks can be a breeze.
Need help managing your employee's health & safety?
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Our experts are available during standard business hours, Monday to Friday, to provide guidance and answer your pressing health and safety questions. Lean on the expertise of our health & safety experts — get BrightSafe Advice today!