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Health and Safety in the Workplace

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project

Information about what to do if there is a safety hazard or unsafe conditions in your workplace and what to do if you become injured or sick at work.

Contents

Questions and Answers

Should I read this?

Yes, for info about what to do if

  • there is a safety hazard or unsafe conditions in your workplace

  • you become injured or sick at work.

Does my employer have to make sure the workplace is safe?

Yes. In general, your employer must provide you with a safe workplace, free from dangers that can cause injury or death.

Are there rules for keeping the workplace safe?

Your employer must follow all the Department of Labor and Industries (L & I)'s rules about safe workplaces. There are different standards for different kinds of jobs (examples: construction and health care jobs).

*If you need to contact your local L & I office, view the L & I Directory.

Your employer

  • must fix any problem that violates the law and has a direct relationship to health and safety.

  •  may also have to pay a fine.

What if the work I am doing is very dangerous?

Try to get the hazard fixed by reporting it to your employer, union, and L & I right away at 1-800-423-7233. If there is not enough time (because the situation is urgent) to get rid of the hazard one of these ways, and you have a reasonable, good faith fear of serious injury, you have the right to refuse to do the unsafe work. You must first

  • exhaust all reasonable options for getting your employer to fix the hazard.

  • tell your employer you will refuse to do the work if the hazard is not fixed.

If you are then fired (or disciplined) for refusing to do the work, you have a claim of retaliation against your employer. You can ask L & I to investigate your claim. See the section on retaliation in this publication.

What if I think conditions at my workplace are unsafe?

You can make a complaint to L & I. You can ask L & I not to give your employer your name.

Complaints must be in writing. Forms for a complaint are available at L & I , or write a letter that:

  • explains who you are

  • describing the hazard

  • explaining why the situation is dangerous

  • explaining what might happen if there is an accident.

*You can contact your local L & I office (check here for directory) or call 1-800-423-7233. You can also hand-deliver or fax a completed complaint form that is available online.

When will L & I do an inspection?

If L & I finds there are reasonable grounds to believe there is a violation, it must make an inspection as soon as it reasonably can. L & I schedules its inspections, in part, based on how dangerous the hazard is.

*If L & I does not believe there are grounds for an inspection, it must tell you in writing.

What if L & I decides not to do an inspection?

You can get an informal review of L & I's decision not to do an inspection or give the employer a citation. You can get a review If L & I issues a fine and you think the time to fix the violation is unreasonable, you can file a notice with L & I asking for a review of the decision within fifteen working days of the citation.

What if my employer is making me work too much overtime?

Generally, your employer can require you to work overtime. "Time and a half" overtime pay may be required by law. If mandatory overtime is harmful to your health or safety, you can ask L & I to investigate.

What if we might be using hazardous substances in the workplace?

 You have a right to find out about any hazardous substances used in your workplace. Your employer must give you information on these substances

  • when you are first assigned to the job

  • whenever a new hazard comes into your workplace

The information must say how to find a list of hazardous chemicals used in the workplace and "material safety data sheets" providing details about the chemicals.

What if I am afraid the employer will get back at me for complaining?

"Retaliation" is action your employer takes against you because of something you have done. The law protects you from retaliation for making a health and safety complaint. If you want L & I to investigate your retaliation claim, you must file it within 30 days of the retaliation. (L & I calls it "discrimination," not retaliation.) To sue in court on these grounds, you have to be fired, not just disciplined.

What if I am hurt on the job or get sick due to work?

Take these steps: 

  • Tell the boss right away. Make sure they know as soon as possible.

  • Get medical help right away, even if the injury does not seem serious. It is important for you to get treatment. It is also important to have a medical record of your injuries in case they bother you later.

  • Give all the facts and details of your work injury to the doctors.

  • Make sure your doctor sends the application to L & I.

You can receive compensation for time missed from work and payment of medical bills due to work-related injuries or illnesses, even if the injury or illness was your own fault. See your doctor soon as possible after you are hurt. Usually, your doctor fills out the form and sends it to L & I. You must explain to your doctor that you were hurt or became ill as a result of your work.

When should I file my claim?

You must file your claim for injuries within one year after the day you were hurt. For occupational diseases, the claim must be filed within two years after you receive a doctor's notice that you are suffering from an occupational disease.

How can workers comp help?

Workers' Compensation will pay:

  • All medical bills connected with treatment for a work injury.

  • Money to replace part of your lost wages if you cannot work for more than four days.

  • Compensation for a permanent disability.

  • In some cases, retraining and rehabilitation benefits.

I was recently the victim of a crime. What if this affects my job? 

If you are the victim of a crime such as assault, domestic violence or child abuse, you may be eligible for benefits under the state Crime Victims' Compensation Act. The Act is like workers' compensation, but covers different situations. Example: You lose work because you are the victim of a crime. You may be able to get lost wages from this fund.

The fund also

  • pays pension benefits and burial expenses for victims who die from injuries caused by crime.

  • pays a lump sum payment to the spouse and/or children of a victim who died from injuries caused by crime.

For more info, call the Crime Victims' Compensation Program at L & I, 800-762-3716.

Last Review and Update: Mar 02, 2017
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