Employee Health: Washington
Federal law and guidance on this subject should be reviewed together with this section.
Author: Leanne Coffman, The Safety Training Solution LLC
- Washington has various programs that investigate and monitor health conditions in the workplace. See Toxic Chemical Exposures and Other Employee Health Hazards.
- Certain medical conditions and illnesses may be considered occupationally sourced if contracted by a professional firefighter. See Occupationally Acquired Diseases.
- The state Domestic Violence Leave Law allows reasonable leaves of absence for seeking medical or mental health treatment related to the effects of violence. See Managing Mental Health Concerns.
- Washington prohibits smoking in places of employment and public places. See Smoking at Work.
- The Good Samaritan law provides conditional protection for those offering voluntary medical care in emergency situations. See Managing Emergency Medical Situations.
Toxic Chemical Exposures and Other Employee Health Hazards
Diacetyl and Food Flavorings
Washington has various programs that investigate and monitor health conditions in the workplace.
Chemical exposures, such as those from the common food flavoring diacetyl, are monitored and assessed by the Washington Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention Program (SHARP).
Workers who make or work near flavorings in production departments are of particular concern, as they may have increased exposure to this product.
Employers in food manufacturing or related industries should examine product Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to determine if diacetyl is present in any workplace materials. If diacetyl is found to be in workplace products, appropriate steps to prevent employee exposure should be implemented.
Diacetyl has been associated with serious or chronic lung conditions, some of which may be permanent. Asthma, bronchitis and a rare condition called bronchiolitis obliterans have been linked to various food flavoring exposures.
SHARP encourages physicians to report any suspected cases of food flavoring lung disease through information and education about the hazards of the products.
An affected employer should review relevant details about diacetyl on the SHARP webpage.
Workplace Health Hazards and Occupational Diseases
SHARP also conducts surveillance programs for other workplace conditions and diseases, including the following:
- Young worker injuries;
- Hospitalized burns;
- Adult blood lead levels;
- Traumatic head and brain injury;
- Workplace violence; and
- Musculoskeletal disorders.
Information for these programs generally comes from physician reports and the workers' compensation database.
For each of the above areas, SHARP has valuable information on hazard recognition and prevention. An employer should examine the available data and be familiar with potential sources of health hazards and occupational diseases. If health hazards are present in the workplace, the employer must administer the appropriate methods to prevent employee injuries and illnesses.
Additionally, an employer should examine 300 logs and records of employee health complaints for possible sources of health hazards. For example, if employees have presented with dermatitis, an assessment of the factors contributing to that condition and possible corrective measures should be examined.
To protect public health, numerous infectious diseases must be monitored and reported to appropriate agencies. The state has compiled a List of Notifiable Conditions, which are selected diseases or conditions that represent serious health hazards to the general public or specific population demographics. Examples of these serious health concerns include diseases such as tuberculosis, botulism and influenza, as well as various forms of Hepatitis.
Under state law, the public health authorities at the local jurisdiction must be informed of any suspected or confirmed conditions listed. The following individuals or entities must perform this reporting:
- Health care providers and healthcare facilities;
- Food service establishments;
- Child day care facilities; and
The complete List of Notifiable Conditions, as well as reporting forms and other pertinent information can be found on the Washington State Department of Health website.
Occupationally Acquired Diseases and Illnesses
Certain medical conditions developed by firefighters may be considered an occupational disease under state law. Based on evidence and occupational hazards, it may be presumed the medical condition is work-related.
To qualify, the firefighter must have passed a preemployment physical examination, which did not reveal evidence of such conditions or impairments.
Presumption of occupational disease applies to firefighters and supervisors, employed on a full-time basis.
Affected illnesses and conditions include:
- Respiratory disease;
- Heart problems, experienced within 72 hours of exposure to smoke, fumes or toxic substances;
- Heart problems experienced within 24 hours of strenuous physical exertion due to firefighting activities;
- Certain cancers; and
- Infectious diseases that are determined to be occupationally sourced.
Individual health issues such as use of tobacco products, physical fitness and personal lifestyle or hereditary factors may cause a denial of compensation.
Managing Mental Health Concerns
Domestic Violence Leave
The Washington Domestic Violence Leave law requires all employers to grant victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking time off to manage the legal, physical or emotional aspects of violence. The victim may use time away from work to seek or meet with legal counsel; attend court dates; seek medical or mental health treatment related to the effects of violence; and obtain services such as assistance from a domestic violence shelter, rape crisis shelter or other social service program.
Family members may take reasonable time to assist a victimized relative in obtaining these services.
Employees must give appropriate notice of the leave of absence, as per the company policy, unless an emergency has occurred. The leave may be unpaid or paid. However, employees are permitted to use applicable paid time off benefits or sick leave under employer policies.
An employer should act with sensitivity and discretion in regard to workers affected by violence. Confidentiality of victimized workers and family members must be strictly maintained.
For more information on this law, please see Employee Leaves > Other Leaves: Washington.
Smoking in the Workplace
Smoking at Work
Washington prohibits smoking in places of employment and public places (e.g., bars, bowling alleys, government buildings, healthcare facilities, schools, restaurants and nontribal casinos). +Rev. Code Wash. (ARCW) § 70.160.030.
Smoking means the carrying or smoking of any kind of lighted pipe, cigar, cigarette or other smoking equipment.
Place of employment means any area under an employer's control that employees are required to pass through during the course of employment, including, but not limited to:
- Entrances and exits, including within 25 feet of entrances, exits, windows that open and ventilation intakes that serve an enclosed area where smoking is prohibited;
- Work areas;
- Conference and classrooms;
- Break rooms and cafeterias; and
- Other common areas.
An employer must post signs prohibiting smoking. Signs must be posted conspicuously at each building entrance. Retail stores and retail service establishments must conspicuously post signs at each entrance and in prominent locations throughout the place. +Rev. Code Wash. (ARCW) § 70.160.050.
The law does not regulate smoking in a private enclosed workplace, within a public place, even though the workplace may be visited by nonsmokers. An exception applies to places in which smoking is prohibited by the chief of the Washington state patrol, through the director of fire protection or by other law, ordinance or regulation. +Rev. Code Wash. (ARCW) § 70.160.060.
Local areas may also create more stringent bans, such as prohibiting smoking in public parks.
Employers may expand upon existing smoking bans. For example, an employer may create policies that ban smoking on the entire facility campus or may adopt a tobacco-free workplace program. If an employer opts for a stronger policy, it should give employees appropriate information about smoking cessation and the policy requirements.
Private residences are not affected by the law, unless the residence is used for adult or child care, or similar services occur on the premises. Private facilities, which are occasionally open to the public, are also exempt, unless it is an event that is open to the public. Up to 75 percent of hotel rooms must be smoke-free. +Rev. Code Wash. (ARCW) § 70.160.020.
The use of e-cigarettes is banned in certain counties where smoking is also prohibited, including, but not limited to:
- Clark County;
- Grant County;
- King County;
- Pierce County; and
- Snohomish County.
Managing Emergency Medical Situations
Good Samaritan Law
Washington has a Good Samaritan law that provides conditional protection from civil damages to individuals who voluntarily render emergency care or emergency transportation to injured or critically ill persons.
The state defines emergency care as first aid, treatment or assistance rendered to an injured person at the scene of an accident or other sudden, unexpected circumstances. Immediate action is needed, which may avert death or worsening physical conditions.
To be covered under the state statute, the care must be given in good faith, without expectation of compensation and apart from the normal course of job duties.
The state also offers similar protections to licensed health care providers and certain medical clinics that voluntarily provide assistance.
However, the provisions of Washington's Good Samaritan law do not apply to any responder if his or her actions are found to be willfully or wantonly negligent, such as intentionally causing harm to the victim. The immunity also does not extend to the negligent operation of any motor vehicle that is being used to transport the victim.
The state Good Samaritan law does permit nominal reimbursements for expenses related to transportation during emergencies and other typical or routine pay (such as for public transport operators).
In spite of the provisions in the law, an employer should be aware that moving or transporting injured persons is only to be performed if there is a sudden, life threatening emergency and must be conducted only if professional assistance is not available. For example, a logging accident in an extremely rural area, which is inaccessible to emergency vehicles, may fall under these criteria.
The primary duty of workplace first aid responders is to perform lifesaving duties until professional help arrives.
Automatic External Defibrillators
The state offers a conditional immunity, similar to that offered by the Good Samaritan law, to individuals who use or acquire an automatic external defibrillator (AED).
Immunity is provided if the use of the AED is given without compensation and under certain conditions, including the following:
- Reasonable training is received by each user in both CPR and AED usage;
- Medical oversight for the AED/CPR program from a licensed physician is obtained;
- All testing and maintenance of the AED conforms with the manufacturer's guidelines;
- If the AED is used for emergency purposes, the user must promptly notify the local professional medical providers; and
- The person or entity who acquires an AED must notify the local emergency medical service provider of the type and location of the device.
The AED law does not provide protection for persons who commit actions that are grossly negligent or exhibit willful or wanton misconduct.
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