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How to protect yourself from wildfire smoke

FILE PHOTO - Officers stationed at the entrance of the Boston Flats trailer park wore respirators to protect themselves.
July 17, 2017 - 4:30 PM

Dense smoke from wildfires in the province continues to drift through the Southern Interior and the resulting terrible air quality is causing health issues for many.

At 2 p.m. on July 17, the air quality in Kamloops was rated at 10 plus, or very high risk, on the air quality health index scale. The air quality in the Okanagan was rated at a 7, or high risk.

Health Canada says with these ratings the average person should reduce or reschedule strenuous outdoor activities. But what does that mean for people who work outside?

"Anyone concerned with working outdoors in these conditions should talk with their employers right away," Barb Nederpel, president of the Kamloops and District Labour Council says. "People should love their jobs, but no one should be dying just to go to work."

Nederpel says anyone who must work outside should speak with employers and agree on a way to lessen the risk of exposure. A solution like working from home, or working on the weekend instead may be a reasonable way to avoid dangerous smoky conditions. Calling WorkSafeBC can be helpful for anyone who isn't sure of their rights as a worker.

"We don't want people thinking that they can't go to work because it's unsafe, but a worker has the right to refuse unsafe work," she says.

More importantly, Nederpel says everyone should take notice of this air quality risk, not just workers.

"The air quality index is rated at extreme. That means it's challenging for everybody," she says.

"This is absolutely critical time right now for employees, labour and WorkSafeBC. We need to come together and make sure the risks of the wildfire are mitigated," Nederpel says. "It has to go beyond workers, wildfire relief volunteers are all working outside and they need to be protecting themselves too."

There are certain people more prone to problems when the air quality dips as low as today. The elderly, children and infants, anyone with chronic conditions like lung or cardiac issues are particularly at risk.

Simple surgical masks do not protect against wildfire smoke damage. Properly fitted N95 mask can help, according to a video posted by the Provincial Health Services Authority.

"A N95 mask can help. Using a tissue or a wet cloth does absolutely nothing. You need a mask that fits properly, but the heat may make it harder to breathe," Nederpel says.

To check the current air quality health index rating in your area, click here

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kim Anderson or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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News from © iNFOnews, 2017

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